The Mysterious Stranger, and Other Stories eBook: Page2
Mark Twain (2006)
Three of us boys were always together, and had been so from the cradle,being fond of one another from the beginning, and this affectiondeepened as the years went on--Nikolaus Bauman, son of the principaljudge of the local court; Seppi Wohlmeyer, son of the keeper of theprincipal inn, the "Golden Stag," which had a nice garden, with shadetrees reaching down to the riverside, and pleasure boats for hire; and Iwas the third--Theodor Fischer, son of the church organist, who wasalso leader of the village musicians, teacher of the violin, composer,tax-collector of the commune, sexton, and in other ways a usefulcitizen, and respected by all. We knew the hills and the woods as wellas the birds knew them; for we were always roaming them when we hadleisure--at least, when we were not swimming or boating or fishing, orplaying on the ice or sliding down hill.
And we had the run of the castle park, and very few had that. It wasbecause we were pets of the oldest servingman in the castle--FelixBrandt; and often we went there, nights, to hear him talk about oldtimes and strange things, and to smoke with him (he taught us that) andto drink coffee; for he had served in the wars, and was at the siege ofVienna; and there, when the Turks were defeated and driven away, amongthe captured things were bags of coffee, and the Turkish prisonersexplained the character of it and how to make a pleasant drink out ofit, and now he always kept coffee by him, to drink himself and also toastonish the ignorant with. When it stormed he kept us all night; andwhile it thundered and lightened outside he told us about ghosts andhorrors of every kind, and of battles and murders and mutilations, andsuch things, and made it pleasant and cozy inside; and he told thesethings from his own experience largely. He had seen many ghosts in histime, and witches and enchanters, and once he was lost in a fierce stormat midnight in the mountains, and by the glare of the lightning had seenthe Wild Huntsman rage on the blast with his specter dogs chasing afterhim through the driving cloud-rack. Also he had seen an incubus once,and several times he had seen the great bat that sucks the blood fromthe necks of people while they are asleep, fanning them softly with itswings and so keeping them drowsy till they die.
He encouraged us not to fear supernatural things, such as ghosts, andsaid they did no harm, but only wandered about because they were lonelyand distressed and wanted kindly notice and compassion; and in time welearned not to be afraid, and even went down with him in the night tothe haunted chamber in the dungeons of the castle. The ghost appearedonly once, and it went by very dim to the sight and floated noiselessthrough the air, and then disappeared; and we scarcely trembled, he hadtaught us so well. He said it came up sometimes in the night and wokehim by passing its clammy hand over his face, but it did him no hurt; itonly wanted sympathy and notice. But the strangest thing was that he hadseen angels--actual angels out of heaven--and had talked with them. Theyhad no wings, and wore clothes, and talked and looked and acted justlike any natural person, and you would never know them for angels exceptfor the wonderful things they did which a mortal could not do, and theway they suddenly disappeared while you were talking with them, whichwas also a thing which no mortal could do. And he said they werepleasant and cheerful, not gloomy and melancholy, like ghosts.
It was after that kind of a talk one May night that we got up nextmorning and had a good breakfast with him and then went down and crossedthe bridge and went away up into the hills on the left to a woodyhill-top which was a favorite place of ours, and there we stretched outon the grass in the shade to rest and smoke and talk over these strangethings, for they were in our minds yet, and impressing us. But wecouldn't smoke, because we had been heedless and left our flint andsteel behind.
Soon there came a youth strolling toward us through the trees, and hesat down and began to talk in a friendly way, just as if he knew us.But we did not answer him, for he was a stranger and we were not used tostrangers and were shy of them. He had new and good clothes on, and washandsome and had a winning face and a pleasant voice, and was easy andgraceful and unembarrassed, not slouchy and awkward and diffident, likeother boys. We wanted to be friendly with him, but didn't know how tobegin. Then I thought of the pipe, and wondered if it would be takenas kindly meant if I offered it to him. But I remembered that we hadno fire, so I was sorry and disappointed. But he looked up bright andpleased, and said:
"Fire? Oh, that is easy; I will furnish it."
I was so astonished I couldn't speak; for I had not said anything. Hetook the pipe and blew his breath on it, and the tobacco glowed red, andspirals of blue smoke rose up. We jumped up and were going to run, forthat was natural; and we did run a few steps, although he was yearninglypleading for us to stay, and giving us his word that he would not do usany harm, but only wanted to be friends with us and have company. So westopped and stood, and wanted to go back, being full of curiosityand wonder, but afraid to venture. He went on coaxing, in his soft,persuasive way; and when we saw that the pipe did not blow up andnothing happened, our confidence returned by little and little, andpresently our curiosity got to be stronger than our fear, and weventured back--but slowly, and ready to fly at any alarm.
He was bent on putting us at ease, and he had the right art; one couldnot remain doubtful and timorous where a person was so earnest andsimple and gentle, and talked so alluringly as he did; no, he won usover, and it was not long before we were content and comfortable andchatty, and glad we had found this new friend. When the feeling ofconstraint was all gone we asked him how he had learned to do thatstrange thing, and he said he hadn't learned it at all; it came naturalto him--like other things--other curious things.
"Oh, a number; I don't know how many."
"Will you let us see you do them?"
"Do--please!" the others said.
"You won't run away again?"
"No--indeed we won't. Please do. Won't you?"
"Yes, with pleasure; but you mustn't forget your promise, you know."
We said we wouldn't, and he went to a puddle and came back with waterin a cup which he had made out of a leaf, and blew upon it and threw itout, and it was a lump of ice the shape of the cup. We were astonishedand charmed, but not afraid any more; we were very glad to be there, andasked him to go on and do some more things. And he did. He said he wouldgive us any kind of fruit we liked, whether it was in season or not. Weall spoke at once;
"They are in your pockets," he said, and it was true. And they were ofthe best, too, and we ate them and wished we had more, though none of ussaid so.
"You will find them where those came from," he said, "and everythingelse your appetites call for; and you need not name the thing you wish;as long as I am with you, you have only to wish and find."
And he said true. There was never anything so wonderful and sointeresting. Bread, cakes, sweets, nuts--whatever one wanted, it wasthere. He ate nothing himself, but sat and chatted, and did one curiousthing after another to amuse us. He made a tiny toy squirrel out ofclay, and it ran up a tree and sat on a limb overhead and barked downat us. Then he made a dog that was not much larger than a mouse, and ittreed the squirrel and danced about the tree, excited and barking, andwas as alive as any dog could be. It frightened the squirrel from treeto tree and followed it up until both were out of sight in the forest.He made birds out of clay and set them free, and they flew away,singing.
At last I made bold to ask him to tell us who he was.
"An angel," he said, quite simply, and set another bird free and clappedhis hands and made it fly away.
A kind of awe fell upon us when we heard him say that, and we wereafraid again; but he said we need not be troubled, there was no occasionfor us to be afraid of an angel, and he liked us, anyway. He went onchatting as simply and unaffectedly as ever; and while he talked he madea crowd of little men and women the size of your finger, and they wentdiligently to work and cleared and leveled off a space a couple of yardssquare in the grass and began to build a cunning little castle in it,the women mixing
It caught us suddenly, that name did, and our work dropped out of ourhands and broke to pieces--a cannon, a halberdier, and a horse. Satanlaughed, and asked what was the matter. I said, "Nothing, only it seemeda strange name for an angel." He asked why.
"Because it's--it's--well, it's his name, you know."
"Yes--he is my uncle."
He said it placidly, but it took our breath for a moment and made ourhearts beat. He did not seem to notice that, but mended our halberdiersand things with a touch, handing them to us finished, and said, "Don'tyou remember?--he was an angel himself, once."
"Yes--it's true," said Seppi; "I didn't think of that."
"Before the Fall he was blameless."
"Yes," said Nikolaus, "he was without sin."
"It is a good family--ours," said Satan; "there is not a better. He isthe only member of it that has ever sinned."
I should not be able to make any one understand how exciting it all was.You know that kind of quiver that trembles around through you when youare seeing something so strange and enchanting and wonderful that itis just a fearful joy to be alive and look at it; and you know howyou gaze, and your lips turn dry and your breath comes short, but youwouldn't be anywhere but there, not for the world. I was bursting toask one question--I had it on my tongue's end and could hardly hold itback--but I was ashamed to ask it; it might be a rudeness. Satan set anox down that he had been making, and smiled up at me and said:
"It wouldn't be a rudeness, and I should forgive it if it was. Have Iseen him? Millions of times. From the time that I was a little child athousand years old I was his second favorite among the nursery angels ofour blood and lineage--to use a human phrase--yes, from that time untilthe Fall, eight thousand years, measured as you count time."
"Yes." He turned to Seppi, and went on as if answering something thatwas in Seppi's mind: "Why, naturally I look like a boy, for that is whatI am. With us what you call time is a spacious thing; it takes a longstretch of it to grow an angel to full age." There was a question in mymind, and he turned to me and answered it, "I am sixteen thousand yearsold--counting as you count." Then he turned to Nikolaus and said: "No,the Fall did not affect me nor the rest of the relationship. It wasonly he that I was named for who ate of the fruit of the tree and thenbeguiled the man and the woman with it. We others are still ignorantof sin; we are not able to commit it; we are without blemish, andshall abide in that estate always. We--" Two of the little workmen werequarreling, and in buzzing little bumblebee voices they were cursingand swearing at each other; now came blows and blood; then they lockedthemselves together in a life-and-death struggle. Satan reached out hishand and crushed the life out of them with his fingers, threw them away,wiped the red from his fingers on his handkerchief, and went ontalking where he had left off: "We cannot do wrong; neither have we anydisposition to do it, for we do not know what it is."
It seemed a strange speech, in the circumstances, but we barely noticedthat, we were so shocked and grieved at the wanton murder he hadcommitted--for murder it was, that was its true name, and it was withoutpalliation or excuse, for the men had not wronged him in any way. Itmade us miserable, for we loved him, and had thought him so noble and sobeautiful and gracious, and had honestly believed he was an angel; andto have him do this cruel thing--ah, it lowered him so, and we had hadsuch pride in him. He went right on talking, just as if nothing hadhappened, telling about his travels, and the interesting things he hadseen in the big worlds of our solar system and of other solar systemsfar away in the remotenesses of space, and about the customs of theimmortals that inhabit them, somehow fascinating us, enchanting us,charming us in spite of the pitiful scene that was now under our eyes,for the wives of the little dead men had found the crushed and shapelessbodies and were crying over them, and sobbing and lamenting, and apriest was kneeling there with his hands crossed upon his breast,praying; and crowds and crowds of pitying friends were massed aboutthem, reverently uncovered, with their bare heads bowed, and many withthe tears running down--a scene which Satan paid no attention to untilthe small noise of the weeping and praying began to annoy him, then hereached out and took the heavy board seat out of our swing and broughtit down and mashed all those people into the earth just as if they hadbeen flies, and went on talking just the same. An angel, and kill apriest! An angel who did not know how to do wrong, and yet destroys incold blood hundreds of helpless poor men and women who had never donehim any harm! It made us sick to see that awful deed, and to think thatnone of those poor creatures was prepared except the priest, for none ofthem had ever heard a mass or seen a church. And we were witnesses; wehad seen these murders done and it was our duty to tell, and let the lawtake its course.
But he went on talking right along, and worked his enchantments upon usagain with that fatal music of his voice. He made us forget everything;we could only listen to him, and love him, and be his slaves, to do withus as he would. He made us drunk with the joy of being with him, andof looking into the heaven of his eyes, and of feeling the ecstasy thatthrilled along our veins from the touch of his hand.
The Stranger had seen everything, he had been everywhere, he kneweverything, and he forgot nothing. What another must study, he learnedat a glance; there were no difficulties for him. And he made things livebefore you when he told about them. He saw the world made; he saw Adamcreated; he saw Samson surge against the pillars and bring the templedown in ruins about him; he saw Caesar's death; he told of the dailylife in heaven; he had seen the damned writhing in the red waves ofhell; and he made us see all these things, and it was as if we were onthe spot and looking at them with our own eyes. And we felt them,too, but there was no sign that they were anything to him beyond mereentertainments. Those visions of hell, those poor babes and women andgirls and lads and men shrieking and supplicating in anguish--why, wecould hardly bear it, but he was as bland about it as if it had been somany imitation rats in an artificial fire.
And always when he was talking about men and women here on the earthand their doings--even their grandest and sublimest--we were secretlyashamed, for his manner showed that to him they and their doings wereof paltry poor consequence; often you would think he was talking aboutflies, if you didn't know. Once he even said, in so many words, thatour people down here were quite interesting to him, notwithstanding theywere so dull and ignorant and trivial and conceited, and so diseased andrickety, and such a shabby, poor, worthless lot all around. He said itin a quite matter-of-course way and without bitterness, just as a personmight talk about bricks or manure or any other thing that was of noconsequence and hadn't feelings. I could see he meant no offense, but inmy thoughts I set it down as not very good manners.
"Manners!" he said. "Why, it is merely the truth, and truth is goodmanners; manners are a fiction. The castle is done. Do you like it?"
Any one would have been obliged to like it. It was lovely to look at,it was so shapely and fine, and so cunningly
A small storm-cloud began to settle down black over the castle, and theminiature lightning and thunder began to play, and the ground to quiver,and the wind to pipe and wheeze, and the rain to fall, and all thepeople flocked into the castle for shelter. The cloud settled downblacker and blacker, and one could see the castle only dimly through it;the lightning blazed out flash upon flash and pierced the castle and setit on fire, and the flames shone out red and fierce through the cloud,and the people came flying out, shrieking, but Satan brushed them back,paying no attention to our begging and crying and imploring; and inthe midst of the howling of the wind and volleying of the thunder themagazine blew up, the earthquake rent the ground wide, and the castle'swreck and ruin tumbled into the chasm, which swallowed it from sight,and closed upon it, with all that innocent life, not one of the fivehundred poor creatures escaping. Our hearts were broken; we could notkeep from crying.
"Don't cry," Satan said; "they were of no value."
"But they are gone to hell!"
"Oh, it is no matter; we can make plenty more."
It was of no use to try to move him; evidently he was wholly withoutfeelings, and could not understand. He was full of bubbling spirits, andas gay as if this were a wedding instead of a fiendish massacre. Andhe was bent on making us feel as he did, and of course his magicaccomplished his desire. It was no trouble to him; he did whatever hepleased with us. In a little while we were dancing on that grave, andhe was playing to us on a strange, sweet instrument which he took outof his pocket; and the music--but there is no music like that, unlessperhaps in heaven, and that was where he brought it from, he said. Itmade one mad, for pleasure; and we could not take our eyes from him, andthe looks that went out of our eyes came from our hearts, and their dumbspeech was worship. He brought the dance from heaven, too, and the blissof paradise was in it.
Presently he said he must go away on an errand. But we could not bearthe thought of it, and clung to him, and pleaded with him to stay; andthat pleased him, and he said so, and said he would not go yet, butwould wait a little while and we would sit down and talk a few minuteslonger; and he told us Satan was only his real name, and he was to beknown by it to us alone, but he had chosen another one to be calledby in the presence of others; just a common one, such as peoplehave--Philip Traum.
It sounded so odd and mean for such a being! But it was his decision,and we said nothing; his decision was sufficient.
We had seen wonders this day; and my thoughts began to run on thepleasure it would be to tell them when I got home, but he noticed thosethoughts, and said:
"No, all these matters are a secret among us four. I do not mind yourtrying to tell them, if you like, but I will protect your tongues, andnothing of the secret will escape from them."
It was a disappointment, but it couldn't be helped, and it cost us asigh or two. We talked pleasantly along, and he was always reading ourthoughts and responding to them, and it seemed to me that this was themost wonderful of all the things he did, but he interrupted my musingsand said:
"No, it would be wonderful for you, but it is not wonderful for me. Iam not limited like you. I am not subject to human conditions. I canmeasure and understand your human weaknesses, for I have studied them;but I have none of them. My flesh is not real, although it would seemfirm to your touch; my clothes are not real; I am a spirit. Father Peteris coming." We looked around, but did not see any one. "He is not insight yet, but you will see him presently."
"Do you know him, Satan?"
"Won't you talk with him when he comes? He is not ignorant and dull,like us, and he would so like to talk with you. Will you?"
"Another time, yes, but not now. I must go on my errand after a little.There he is now; you can see him. Sit still, and don't say anything."
We looked up and saw Father Peter approaching through the chestnuts. Wethree were sitting together in the grass, and Satan sat in front ofus in the path. Father Peter came slowly along with his head down,thinking, and stopped within a couple of yards of us and took off hishat and got out his silk handkerchief, and stood there mopping his faceand looking as if he were going to speak to us, but he didn't. Presentlyhe muttered, "I can't think what brought me here; it seems as if I werein my study a minute ago--but I suppose I have been dreaming along foran hour and have come all this stretch without noticing; for I am notmyself in these troubled days." Then he went mumbling along to himselfand walked straight through Satan, just as if nothing were there. Itmade us catch our breath to see it. We had the impulse to cry out, theway you nearly always do when a startling thing happens, but somethingmysteriously restrained us and we remained quiet, only breathing fast.Then the trees hid Father Peter after a little, and Satan said:
"It is as I told you--I am only a spirit."
"Yes, one perceives it now," said Nikolaus, "but we are not spirits. Itis plain he did not see you, but were we invisible, too? He looked atus, but he didn't seem to see us."
"No, none of us was visible to him, for I wished it so."
It seemed almost too good to be true, that we were actually seeing theseromantic and wonderful things, and that it was not a dream. And there hesat, looking just like anybody--so natural and simple and charming, andchatting along again the same as ever, and--well, words cannot make youunderstand what we felt. It was an ecstasy; and an ecstasy is a thingthat will not go into words; it feels like music, and one cannot tellabout music so that another person can get the feeling of it. He wasback in the old ages once more now, and making them live before us. Hehad seen so much, so much! It was just a wonder to look at him and tryto think how it must seem to have such experience behind one.
But it made you seem sorrowfully trivial, and the creature of a day, andsuch a short and paltry day, too. And he didn't say anything to raise upyour drooping pride--no, not a word. He always spoke of men in the sameold indifferent way--just as one speaks of bricks and manure-piles andsuch things; you could see that they were of no consequence to him, oneway or the other. He didn't mean to hurt us, you could see that; just aswe don't mean to insult a brick when we disparage it; a brick's emotionsare nothing to us; it never occurs to us to think whether it has any ornot.
Once when he was bunching the most illustrious kings and conquerorsand poets and prophets and pirates and beggars together--just abrick-pile--I was shamed into putting in a word for man, and askedhim why he made so much difference between men and himself. He had tostruggle with that a moment; he didn't seem to understand how I couldask such a strange question. Then he said:
"The difference between man and me? The difference between a mortal andan immortal? between a cloud and a spirit?" He picked up a wood-lousethat was creeping along a piece of bark: "What is the difference betweenCaesar and this?"
I said, "One cannot compare things which by their nature and by theinterval between them are not comparable."
"You have answered your own question," he said. "I will exp
He stopped there, as if that settled the matter. I was sorry, for atthat time I had but a dim idea of what the Moral Sense was. I merelyknew that we were proud of having it, and when he talked like that aboutit, it wounded me, and I felt as a girl feels who thinks her dearestfinery is being admired and then overhears strangers making fun of it.For a while we were all silent, and I, for one, was depressed. ThenSatan began to chat again, and soon he was sparkling along in such acheerful and vivacious vein that my spirits rose once more. He told somevery cunning things that put us in a gale of laughter; and when he wastelling about the time that Samson tied the torches to the foxes' tailsand set them loose in the Philistines' corn, and Samson sitting on thefence slapping his thighs and laughing, with the tears running down hischeeks, and lost his balance and fell off the fence, the memory of thatpicture got him to laughing, too, and we did have a most lovely andjolly time. By and by he said:
"I am going on my errand now."
"Don't!" we all said. "Don't go; stay with us. You won't come back."
"Yes, I will; I give you my word."
"When? To-night? Say when."
"It won't be long. You will see."
"We like you."
"And I you. And as a proof of it I will show you something fine to see.Usually when I go I merely vanish; but now I will dissolve myself andlet you see me do it."
He stood up, and it was quickly finished. He thinned away and thinnedaway until he was a soap-bubble, except that he kept his shape. Youcould see the bushes through him as clearly as you see things through asoap-bubble, and all over him played and flashed the delicate iridescentcolors of the bubble, and along with them was that thing shaped like awindow-sash which you always see on the globe of the bubble. You haveseen a bubble strike the carpet and lightly bound along two orthree times before it bursts. He did that. He sprang--touched thegrass--bounded--floated along--touched again--and so on, and presentlyexploded--puff! and in his place was vacancy.
It was a strange and beautiful thing to see. We did not say anything,but sat wondering and dreaming and blinking; and finally Seppi roused upand said, mournfully sighing:
"I suppose none of it has happened."
Nikolaus sighed and said about the same.
I was miserable to hear them say it, for it was the same cold fear thatwas in my own mind. Then we saw poor old Father Peter wandering alongback, with his head bent down, searching the ground. When he was prettyclose to us he looked up and saw us, and said, "How long have you beenhere, boys?"
"A little while, Father."
"Then it is since I came by, and maybe you can help me. Did you come upby the path?"
"That is good. I came the same way. I have lost my wallet. There wasn'tmuch in it, but a very little is much to me, for it was all I had. Isuppose you haven't seen anything of it?"
"No, Father, but we will help you hunt."
"It is what I was going to ask you. Why, here it is!"
We hadn't noticed it; yet there it lay, right where Satan stood whenhe began to melt--if he did melt and it wasn't a delusion. Father Peterpicked it up and looked very much surprised.
"It is mine," he said, "but not the contents. This is fat; mine wasflat; mine was light; this is heavy." He opened it; it was stuffed asfull as it could hold with gold coins. He let us gaze our fill; andof course we did gaze, for we had never seen so much money at one timebefore. All our mouths came open to say "Satan did it!" but nothingcame out. There it was, you see--we couldn't tell what Satan didn't wanttold; he had said so himself.
"Boys, did you do this?"
It made us laugh. And it made him laugh, too, as soon as he thought whata foolish question it was.
"Who has been here?"
Our mouths came open to answer, but stood so for a moment, becausewe couldn't say "Nobody," for it wouldn't be true, and the right worddidn't seem to come; then I thought of the right one, and said it:
"Not a human being."
"That is so," said the others, and let their mouths go shut.
"It is not so," said Father Peter, and looked at us very severely."I came by here a while ago, and there was no one here, but that isnothing; some one has been here since. I don't mean to say that theperson didn't pass here before you came, and I don't mean to say you sawhim, but some one did pass, that I know. On your honor--you saw no one?"
"Not a human being."
"That is sufficient; I know you are telling me the truth."
He began to count the money on the path, we on our knees eagerly helpingto stack it in little piles.
"It's eleven hundred ducats odd!" he said. "Oh dear! if it were onlymine--and I need it so!" and his voice broke and his lips quivered.
"It is yours, sir!" we all cried out at once, "every heller!"
"No--it isn't mine. Only four ducats are mine; the rest...!" He fell todreaming, poor old soul, and caressing some of the coins in his hands,and forgot where he was, sitting there on his heels with his old grayhead bare; it was pitiful to see. "No," he said, waking up, "it isn'tmine. I can't account for it. I think some enemy... it must be a trap."
Nikolaus said: "Father Peter, with the exception of the astrologer youhaven't a real enemy in the village--nor Marget, either. And not even ahalf-enemy that's rich enough to chance eleven hundred ducats to do youa mean turn. I'll ask you if that's so or not?"
He couldn't get around that argument, and it cheered him up. "But itisn't mine, you see--it isn't mine, in any case."
He said it in a wistful way, like a person that wouldn't be sorry, butglad, if anybody would contradict him.
"It is yours, Father Peter, and we are witness to it. Aren't we, boys?"
"Yes, we are--and we'll stand by it, too."
"Bless your hearts, you do almost persuade me; you do, indeed. If Ihad only a hundred-odd ducats of it! The house is mortgaged for it, andwe've no home for our heads if we don't pay to-morrow. And that fourducats is all we've got in the--"
"It's yours, every bit of it, and you've got to take it--we are bailthat it's all right. Aren't we, Theodor? Aren't we, Seppi?"
We two said yes, and Nikolaus stuffed the money back into the shabby oldwallet and made the owner take it. So he said he would use two hundredof it, for his house was good enough security for that, and would putthe rest at interest till the rightful owner came for it; and on ourside we must sign a paper showing how he got the money--a paper toshow to the villagers as proof that he had not got out of his troublesdishonestly.
It made immense talk next day, when Father Peter paid Solomon Isaacs ingold and left the rest of the money with him at interest. Also, therewas a pleasant change; many people called at the house to congratulatehim, and a number of cool old friends became kind and friendly again;and, to top all, Marget was invited to a party.
And there was no mystery; Father Peter told the whole circumstance justas it happened, and said he could not account for it, only it was theplain hand of Providence, so far as he could see.
One or two shook their heads and said privately it looked more likethe hand of Satan; and really that seemed a surprisingly good guess forignorant people like that. Some came slyly buzzing around and triedto coax us boys to come out and "tell the truth;" and promised theywouldn't ever tell, but only wanted to know for their own satisfaction,because the whole thing was so curious. They even wanted to buy thesecret, and pay money for it; and if we could have invented somethingthat would answer--but we couldn't; we hadn't the ingenuity, so we hadto let the chance go by, and it was a pity.
We carried that secret around without any trouble, but the other one,the big one, the splendid one
During the first day we were in a state of anxiety on account of onething, and we kept going to Father Peter's house on one pretext oranother to keep track of it. That was the gold coin; we were afraidit would crumble and turn to dust, like fairy money. If it did--But itdidn't. At the end of the day no complaint had been made about it, soafter that we were satisfied that it was real gold, and dropped theanxiety out of our minds.
There was a question which we wanted to ask Father Peter, and finallywe went there the second evening, a little diffidently, after drawingstraws, and I asked it as casually as I could, though it did not soundas casual as I wanted, because I didn't know how:
"What is the Moral Sense, sir?"
He looked down, surprised, over his great spectacles, and said, "Why, itis the faculty which enables us to distinguish good from evil."
It threw some light, but not a glare, and I was a little disappointed,also to some degree embarrassed. He was waiting for me to go on, so, indefault of anything else to say, I asked, "Is it valuable?"
"Valuable? Heavens! lad, it is the one thing that lifts man above thebeasts that perish and makes him heir to immortality!"
This did not remind me of anything further to say, so I got out, withthe other boys, and we went away with that indefinite sense you haveoften had of being filled but not fatted. They wanted me to explain, butI was tired.
We passed out through the parlor, and there was Marget at the spinnetteaching Marie Lueger. So one of the deserting pupils was back; and aninfluential one, too; the others would follow. Marget jumped up andran and thanked us again, with tears in her eyes--this was the thirdtime--for saving her and her uncle from being turned into the street,and we told her again we hadn't done it; but that was her way, she nevercould be grateful enough for anything a person did for her; so we lether have her say. And as we passed through the garden, there was WilhelmMeidling sitting there waiting, for it was getting toward the edge ofthe evening, and he would be asking Marget to take a walk along theriver with him when she was done with the lesson. He was a young lawyer,and succeeding fairly well and working his way along, little by little.He was very fond of Marget, and she of him. He had not deserted alongwith the others, but had stood his ground all through. His faithfulnesswas not lost on Marget and her uncle. He hadn't so very much talent, buthe was handsome and good, and these are a kind of talents themselves andhelp along. He asked us how the lesson was getting along, and we toldhim it was about done. And maybe it was so; we didn't know anythingabout it, but we judged it would please him, and it did, and didn't costus anything.
On the fourth day comes the astrologer from his crumbling old tower upthe valley, where he had heard the news, I reckon. He had a private talkwith us, and we told him what we could, for we were mightily in dreadof him. He sat there studying and studying awhile to himself; then heasked:
"How many ducats did you say?"
"Eleven hundred and seven, sir."
Then he said, as if he were talking to himself: "It is ver-y singular.Yes... very strange. A curious coincidence." Then he began to askquestions, and went over the whole ground from the beginning, weanswering. By and by he said: "Eleven hundred and six ducats. It is alarge sum."
"Seven," said Seppi, correcting him.
"Oh, seven, was it? Of course a ducat more or less isn't of consequence,but you said eleven hundred and six before."
It would not have been safe for us to say he was mistaken, but we knewhe was. Nikolaus said, "We ask pardon for the mistake, but we meant tosay seven."
"Oh, it is no matter, lad; it was merely that I noticed the discrepancy.It is several days, and you cannot be expected to remember precisely.One is apt to be inexact when there is no particular circumstance toimpress the count upon the memory."
"But there was one, sir," said Seppi, eagerly.
"What was it, my son?" asked the astrologer, indifferently.
"First, we all counted the piles of coin, each in turn, and all made itthe same--eleven hundred and six. But I had slipped one out, for fun,when the count began, and now I slipped it back and said, 'I think thereis a mistake--there are eleven hundred and seven; let us count again.'We did, and of course I was right. They were astonished; then I told howit came about."
The astrologer asked us if this was so, and we said it was.
"That settles it," he said. "I know the thief now. Lads, the money wasstolen."
Then he went away, leaving us very much troubled, and wondering what hecould mean. In about an hour we found out; for by that time it was allover the village that Father Peter had been arrested for stealing agreat sum of money from the astrologer. Everybody's tongue was loose andgoing. Many said it was not in Father Peter's character and must be amistake; but the others shook their heads and said misery and want coulddrive a suffering man to almost anything. About one detail there wereno differences; all agreed that Father Peter's account of how themoney came into his hands was just about unbelievable--it had such animpossible look. They said it might have come into the astrologer'shands in some such way, but into Father Peter's, never! Our charactersbegan to suffer now. We were Father Peter's only witnesses; how muchdid he probably pay us to back up his fantastic tale? People talked thatkind of talk to us pretty freely and frankly, and were full of scoffingswhen we begged them to believe really we had told only the truth. Ourparents were harder on us than any one else. Our fathers said we weredisgracing our families, and they commanded us to purge ourselves of ourlie, and there was no limit to their anger when we continued to say wehad spoken true. Our mothers cried over us and begged us to give backour bribe and get back our honest names and save our families fromshame, and come out and honorably confess. And at last we were soworried and harassed that we tried to tell the whole thing, Satan andall--but no, it wouldn't come out. We were hoping and longing all thetime that Satan would come and help us out of our trouble, but there wasno sign of him.
Within an hour after the astrologer's talk with us, Father Peter was inprison and the money sealed up and in the hands of the officers of thelaw. The money was in a bag, and Solomon Isaacs said he had not touchedit since he had counted it; his oath was taken that it was the samemoney, and that the amount was eleven hundred and seven ducats. FatherPeter claimed trial by the ecclesiastical court, but our other priest,Father Adolf, said an ecclesiastical court hadn't jurisdiction over asuspended priest. The bishop upheld him. That settled it; the case wouldgo to trial in the civil court. The court would not sit for some time tocome. Wilhelm Meidling would be Father Peter's lawyer and do the best hecould, of course, but he told us privately that a weak case on his sideand all the power and prejudice on the other made the outlook bad.
So Marget's new happiness died a quick death. No friends came tocondole with her, and none were expected; an unsigned note withdrew herinvitation to the party. There would be no scholars to take lessons.How could she support herself? She could remain in the house, for themortgage was paid off, though the government and not poor Solomon Isaacshad the mortgage-money in its grip for the present. Old Ursula, whowas cook, chambermaid, housekeeper, laundress, and everything else forFather Peter, and had been Marget's nurse in earlier years, saidGod would provide. But she said that from habit, for she was a goodChristian. She meant to help in the providing, to make sure, if she
We boys wanted to go and see Marget and show friendliness for her, butour parents were afraid of offending the community and wouldn't letus. The astrologer was going around inflaming everybody against FatherPeter, and saying he was an abandoned thief and had stolen elevenhundred and seven gold ducats from him. He said he knew he was a thieffrom that fact, for it was exactly the sum he had lost and which FatherPeter pretended he had "found."
In the afternoon of the fourth day after the catastrophe old Ursulaappeared at our house and asked for some washing to do, and begged mymother to keep this secret, to save Marget's pride, who would stop thisproject if she found it out, yet Marget had not enough to eat and wasgrowing weak. Ursula was growing weak herself, and showed it; and sheate of the food that was offered her like a starving person, but couldnot be persuaded to carry any home, for Marget would not eat charityfood. She took some clothes down to the stream to wash them, but we sawfrom the window that handling the bat was too much for her strength;so she was called back and a trifle of money offered her, which she wasafraid to take lest Marget should suspect; then she took it, saying shewould explain that she found it in the road. To keep it from being a lieand damning her soul, she got me to drop it while she watched; then shewent along by there and found it, and exclaimed with surprise and joy,and picked it up and went her way. Like the rest of the village, shecould tell every-day lies fast enough and without taking any precautionsagainst fire and brimstone on their account; but this was a new kind oflie, and it had a dangerous look because she hadn't had any practice init. After a week's practice it wouldn't have given her any trouble. Itis the way we are made.
I was in trouble, for how would Marget live? Ursula could not find acoin in the road every day--perhaps not even a second one. And I wasashamed, too, for not having been near Marget, and she so in need offriends; but that was my parents' fault, not mine, and I couldn't helpit.
I was walking along the path, feeling very down-hearted, when a mostcheery and tingling freshening-up sensation went rippling through me,and I was too glad for any words, for I knew by that sign that Satan wasby. I had noticed it before. Next moment he was alongside of me and Iwas telling him all my trouble and what had been happening to Marget andher uncle. While we were talking we turned a curve and saw old Ursularesting in the shade of a tree, and she had a lean stray kitten in herlap and was petting it. I asked her where she got it, and she said itcame out of the woods and followed her; and she said it probably hadn'tany mother or any friends and she was going to take it home and takecare of it. Satan said:
"I understand you are very poor. Why do you want to add another mouth tofeed? Why don't you give it to some rich person?"
Ursula bridled at this and said: "Perhaps you would like to have it. Youmust be rich, with your fine clothes and quality airs." Then she sniffedand said: "Give it to the rich--the idea! The rich don't care foranybody but themselves; it's only the poor that have feeling forthe poor, and help them. The poor and God. God will provide for thiskitten."
"What makes you think so?"
Ursula's eyes snapped with anger. "Because I know it!" she said. "Not asparrow falls to the ground without His seeing it."
"But it falls, just the same. What good is seeing it fall?"
Old Ursula's jaws worked, but she could not get any word out for themoment, she was so horrified. When she got her tongue, she stormed out,"Go about your business, you puppy, or I will take a stick to you!"
I could not speak, I was so scared. I knew that with his notions aboutthe human race Satan would consider it a matter of no consequence tostrike her dead, there being "plenty more"; but my tongue stood still,I could give her no warning. But nothing happened; Satan remainedtranquil--tranquil and indifferent. I suppose he could not be insultedby Ursula any more than the king could be insulted by a tumble-bug. Theold woman jumped to her feet when she made her remark, and did it asbriskly as a young girl. It had been many years since she had done thelike of that. That was Satan's influence; he was a fresh breeze to theweak and the sick, wherever he came. His presence affected even the leankitten, and it skipped to the ground and began to chase a leaf. Thissurprised Ursula, and she stood looking at the creature and nodding herhead wonderingly, her anger quite forgotten.
"What's come over it?" she said. "Awhile ago it could hardly walk."
"You have not seen a kitten of that breed before," said Satan.
Ursula was not proposing to be friendly with the mocking stranger, andshe gave him an ungentle look and retorted: "Who asked you to come hereand pester me, I'd like to know? And what do you know about what I'veseen and what I haven't seen?"
"You haven't seen a kitten with the hair-spines on its tongue pointingto the front, have you?"
"No--nor you, either."
"Well, examine this one and see."
Ursula was become pretty spry, but the kitten was spryer, and she couldnot catch it, and had to give it up. Then Satan said:
"Give it a name, and maybe it will come."
Ursula tried several names, but the kitten was not interested.
"Call it Agnes. Try that."
The creature answered to the name and came. Ursula examined its tongue."Upon my word, it's true!" she said. "I have not seen this kind of a catbefore. Is it yours?"
"Then how did you know its name so pat?"
"Because all cats of that breed are named Agnes; they will not answer toany other."
Ursula was impressed. "It is the most wonderful thing!" Then a shadow oftrouble came into her face, for her superstitions were aroused, and shereluctantly put the creature down, saying: "I suppose I must let it go;I am not afraid--no, not exactly that, though the priest--well, I'veheard people--indeed, many people... And, besides, it is quite well nowand can take care of itself." She sighed, and turned to go, murmuring:"It is such a pretty one, too, and would be such company--and the houseis so sad and lonesome these troubled days... Miss Marget so mournfuland just a shadow, and the old master shut up in jail."
"It seems a pity not to keep it," said Satan.
Ursula turned quickly--just as if she were hoping some one wouldencourage her.
"Why?" she asked, wistfully.
"Because this breed brings luck."
"Does it? Is it true? Young man, do you know it to be true? How does itbring luck?"
"Well, it brings money, anyway."
Ursula looked disappointed. "Money? A cat bring money? The idea! Youcould never sell it here; people do not buy cats here; one can't evengive them away." She turned to go.
"I don't mean sell it. I mean have an income from it. This kind iscalled the Lucky Cat. Its owner finds four silver groschen in his pocketevery morning."
I saw the indignation rising in the old woman's face. She was insulted.This boy was making fun of her. That was her thought. She thrust herhands into her pockets and straightened up to give him a piece of hermind. Her temper was all up, and hot. Her mouth came open and let outthree words of a bitter sentence,... then it fell silent, and the angerin her face turned to surprise or wonder or fear, or something, and sheslowly brought out her hands from her pockets and opened them and heldthem so. In one was my piece of money, in the other lay four silvergroschen. She gazed a little while, perhaps to see if the groschen wouldvanish away; then she said, fervently:
"It's true--it's true--and I'm ashamed and beg forgiveness, O dearmaster and benefactor!" And she ran to Satan and kissed his hand, overand over again, according to the Austrian custom.
In her heart she probably believed it was a witch-cat and an agent ofthe Devil; but no matter, it was all the more certain to be able tokeep its contract and furnish a daily good living for the family, forin matters of finance even the piousest of our peasants would have moreconfidence in an arrangement with the Devil than with an archangel.Ursula started homeward, with Agnes in her arms, and I said I wished Ihad her privilege of seeing Marget.
Then I caught my breath, for we were there. There in the parlor, an
"Maybe they will," said Marget. "Does your uncle travel much?"
"Oh yes, he goes all about; he has business everywhere."
And so they went on chatting, and poor Marget forgot her sorrow for onelittle while, anyway. It was probably the only really bright and cheeryhour she had known lately. I saw she liked Philip, and I knew she would.And when he told her he was studying for the ministry I could see thatshe liked him better than ever. And then, when he promised to get heradmitted to the jail so that she could see her uncle, that was thecapstone. He said he would give the guards a little present, and shemust always go in the evening after dark, and say nothing, "but justshow this paper and pass in, and show it again when you come out"--andhe scribbled some queer marks on the paper and gave it to her, and shewas ever so thankful, and right away was in a fever for the sun to godown; for in that old, cruel time prisoners were not allowed to seetheir friends, and sometimes they spent years in the jails without everseeing a friendly face. I judged that the marks on the paper were anenchantment, and that the guards would not know what they were doing,nor have any memory of it afterward; and that was indeed the way of it.Ursula put her head in at the door now and said:
"Supper's ready, miss." Then she saw us and looked frightened, andmotioned me to come to her, which I did, and she asked if we had toldabout the cat. I said no, and she was relieved, and said please don't;for if Miss Marget knew, she would think it was an unholy cat and wouldsend for a priest and have its gifts all purified out of it, and thenthere wouldn't be any more dividends. So I said we wouldn't tell, andshe was satisfied. Then I was beginning to say good-by to Marget, butSatan interrupted and said, ever so politely--well, I don't rememberjust the words, but anyway he as good as invited himself to supper,and me, too. Of course Marget was miserably embarrassed, for she hadno reason to suppose there would be half enough for a sick bird. Ursulaheard him, and she came straight into the room, not a bit pleased. Atfirst she was astonished to see Marget looking so fresh and rosy, andsaid so; then she spoke up in her native tongue, which was Bohemian, andsaid--as I learned afterward--"Send him away, Miss Marget; there's notvictuals enough."
Before Marget could speak, Satan had the word, and was talking back toUrsula in her own language--which was a surprise to her, and for hermistress, too. He said, "Didn't I see you down the road awhile ago?"
"Ah, that pleases me; I see you remember me." He stepped to her andwhispered: "I told you it is a Lucky Cat. Don't be troubled; it willprovide."
That sponged the slate of Ursula's feelings clean of its anxieties, anda deep, financial joy shone in her eyes. The cat's value was augmenting.It was getting full time for Marget to take some sort of notice ofSatan's invitation, and she did it in the best way, the honest way thatwas natural to her. She said she had little to offer, but that we werewelcome if we would share it with her.
We had supper in the kitchen, and Ursula waited at table. A small fishwas in the frying-pan, crisp and brown and tempting, and one could seethat Marget was not expecting such respectable food as this. Ursulabrought it, and Marget divided it between Satan and me, declining totake any of it herself; and was beginning to say she did not care forfish to-day, but she did not finish the remark. It was because shenoticed that another fish had appeared in the pan. She looked surprised,but did not say anything. She probably meant to inquire of Ursula aboutthis later. There were other surprises: flesh and game and wines andfruits--things which had been strangers in that house lately; but Margetmade no exclamations, and now even looked unsurprised, which was Satan'sinfluence, of course. Satan talked right along, and was entertaining,and made the time pass pleasantly and cheerfully; and although he told agood many lies, it was no harm in him, for he was only an angel and didnot know any better. They do not know right from wrong; I knew this,because I remembered what he had said about it. He got on the good sideof Ursula. He praised her to Marget, confidentially, but speaking justloud enough for Ursula to hear. He said she was a fine woman, and hehoped some day to bring her and his uncle together. Very soon Ursula wasmincing and simpering around in a ridiculous girly way, and smoothingout her gown and prinking at herself like a foolish old hen, and allthe time pretending she was not hearing what Satan was saying. I wasashamed, for it showed us to be what Satan considered us, a silly raceand trivial. Satan said his uncle entertained a great deal, and tohave a clever woman presiding over the festivities would double theattractions of the place.
"But your uncle is a gentleman, isn't he?" asked Marget.
"Yes," said Satan indifferently; "some even call him a Prince, out ofcompliment, but he is not bigoted; to him personal merit is everything,rank nothing."
My hand was hanging down by my chair; Agnes came along and licked it; bythis act a secret was revealed. I started to say, "It is all a mistake;this is just a common, ordinary cat; the hair-needles on her tonguepoint inward, not outward." But the words did not come, because theycouldn't. Satan smiled upon me, and I understood.
When it was dark Marget took food and wine and fruit, in a basket, andhurried away to the jail, and Satan and I walked toward my home. I wasthinking to myself that I should like to see what the inside of the jailwas like; Satan overheard the thought, and the next moment we werein the jail. We were in the torture-chamber, Satan said. The rack wasthere, and the other instruments, and there was a smoky lantern ortwo hanging on the walls and helping to make the place look dim anddreadful. There were people there--and executioners--but as they tookno notice of us, it meant that we were invisible. A young man lay bound,and Satan said he was suspected of being a heretic, and the executionerswere about to inquire into it. They asked the man to confess to thecharge, and he said he could not, for it was not true. Then they drovesplinter after splinter under his nails, and he shrieked with thepain. Satan was not disturbed, but I could not endure it, and had to bewhisked out of there. I was faint and sick, but the fresh air revivedme, and we walked toward my home. I said it was a brutal thing.
"No, it was a human thing. You should not insult the brutes by such amisuse of that word; they have not deserved it," and he went on talkinglike that. "It is like your paltry race--always lying, always claimingvirtues which it hasn't got, always denying them to the higher animals,which alone possess them. No brute ever does a cruel thing--that is themonopoly of those with the Moral Sense. When a brute inflicts pain hedoes it innocently; it is not wrong; for him there is no such thingas wrong. And he does not inflict pain for the pleasure of inflictingit--only man does
In a moment we were in a French village. We walked through a greatfactory of some sort, where men and women and little children weretoiling in heat and dirt and a fog of dust; and they were clothed inrags, and drooped at their work, for they were worn and half starved,and weak and drowsy. Satan said:
"It is some more Moral Sense. The proprietors are rich, and very holy;but the wage they pay to these poor brothers and sisters of theirs isonly enough to keep them from dropping dead with hunger. The work-hoursare fourteen per day, winter and summer--from six in the morning tilleight at night--little children and all. And they walk to and from thepigsties which they inhabit--four miles each way, through mud and slush,rain, snow, sleet, and storm, daily, year in and year out. They getfour hours of sleep. They kennel together, three families in a room, inunimaginable filth and stench; and disease comes, and they die off likeflies. Have they committed a crime, these mangy things? No. What havethey done, that they are punished so? Nothing at all, except gettingthemselves born into your foolish race. You have seen how they treat amisdoer there in the jail; now you see how they treat the innocentand the worthy. Is your race logical? Are these ill-smelling innocentsbetter off than that heretic? Indeed, no; his punishment is trivialcompared with theirs. They broke him on the wheel and smashed himto rags and pulp after we left, and he is dead now, and free of yourprecious race; but these poor slaves here--why, they have been dying foryears, and some of them will not escape from life for years to come. Itis the Moral Sense which teaches the factory proprietors the differencebetween right and wrong--you perceive the result. They think themselvesbetter than dogs. Ah, you are such an illogical, unreasoning race! Andpaltry--oh, unspeakably!"
Then he dropped all seriousness and just overstrained himself making funof us, and deriding our pride in our warlike deeds, our great heroes,our imperishable fames, our mighty kings, our ancient aristocracies, ourvenerable history--and laughed and laughed till it was enough to make aperson sick to hear him; and finally he sobered a little and said, "But,after all, it is not all ridiculous; there is a sort of pathos about itwhen one remembers how few are your days, how childish your pomps, andwhat shadows you are!"
Presently all things vanished suddenly from my sight, and I knew whatit meant. The next moment we were walking along in our village; and downtoward the river I saw the twinkling lights of the Golden Stag. Then inthe dark I heard a joyful cry:
"He's come again!"
It was Seppi Wohlmeyer. He had felt his blood leap and his spirits risein a way that could mean only one thing, and he knew Satan was near,although it was too dark to see him. He came to us, and we walked alongtogether, and Seppi poured out his gladness like water. It was as if hewere a lover and had found his sweetheart who had been lost. Seppi wasa smart and animated boy, and had enthusiasm and expression, and wasa contrast to Nikolaus and me. He was full of the last new mystery,now--the disappearance of Hans Oppert, the village loafer. Peoplewere beginning to be curious about it, he said. He did not sayanxious--curious was the right word, and strong enough. No one had seenHans for a couple of days.
"Not since he did that brutal thing, you know," he said.
"What brutal thing?" It was Satan that asked.
"Well, he is always clubbing his dog, which is a good dog, and his onlyfriend, and is faithful, and loves him, and does no one any harm;and two days ago he was at it again, just for nothing--just forpleasure--and the dog was howling and begging, and Theodor and I begged,too, but he threatened us, and struck the dog again with all his mightand knocked one of his eyes out, and he said to us, 'There, I hopeyou are satisfied now; that's what you have got for him by your damnedmeddling'--and he laughed, the heartless brute." Seppi's voice trembledwith pity and anger. I guessed what Satan would say, and he said it.
"There is that misused word again--that shabby slander. Brutes do notact like that, but only men."
"Well, it was inhuman, anyway."
"No, it wasn't, Seppi; it was human--quite distinctly human. It is notpleasant to hear you libel the higher animals by attributing to themdispositions which they are free from, and which are found nowherebut in the human heart. None of the higher animals is tainted with thedisease called the Moral Sense. Purify your language, Seppi; drop thoselying phrases out of it."
He spoke pretty sternly--for him--and I was sorry I hadn't warned Seppito be more particular about the word he used. I knew how he was feeling.He would not want to offend Satan; he would rather offend all his kin.There was an uncomfortable silence, but relief soon came, for that poordog came along now, with his eye hanging down, and went straight toSatan, and began to moan and mutter brokenly, and Satan began to answerin the same way, and it was plain that they were talking together in thedog language. We all sat down in the grass, in the moonlight, for theclouds were breaking away now, and Satan took the dog's head in his lapand put the eye back in its place, and the dog was comfortable, and hewagged his tail and licked Satan's hand, and looked thankful and saidthe same; I knew he was saying it, though I did not understand thewords. Then the two talked together a bit, and Satan said:
"He says his master was drunk."
"Yes, he was," said we.
"And an hour later he fell over the precipice there beyond the CliffPasture."
"We know the place; it is three miles from here."
"And the dog has been often to the village, begging people to go there,but he was only driven away and not listened to."
We remembered it, but hadn't understood what he wanted.
"He only wanted help for the man who had misused him, and he thoughtonly of that, and has had no food nor sought any. He has watched by hismaster two nights. What do you think of your race? Is heaven reservedfor it, and this dog ruled out, as your teachers tell you? Can your raceadd anything to this dog's stock of morals and magnanimities?" He spoketo the creature, who jumped up, eager and happy, and apparently readyfor orders and impatient to execute them. "Get some men; go with thedog--he will show you that carrion; and take a priest along to arrangeabout insurance, for death is near."
With the last word he vanished, to our sorrow and disappointment. We gotthe men and Father Adolf, and we saw the man die. Nobody cared but thedog; he mourned and grieved, and licked the dead face, and could not becomforted. We buried him where he was, and without a coffin, for he hadno money, and no friend but the dog. If we had been an hour earlier thepriest would have been in time to send that poor creature to heaven, butnow he was gone down into the awful fires, to burn forever. It seemedsuch a pity that in a world where so many people have difficulty to putin their time, one little hour could not have been spared for thispoor creature who needed it so much, and to whom it would have made thedifference between eternal joy and eternal pain. It gave an appallingidea of the value of an hour, and I thought I could never waste oneagain without remorse and terror. Seppi was depressed and grieved, andsaid it must be so much better to be a dog and not run such awful risks.We took this one home with us and kept him for our own. Seppi had a verygood thought as we were walking along, and it cheered us up and made usfeel much better. He said the dog had forgiven the man that had wrongedhim so, and maybe God would accept that absolution.
There was a very dull week, now, for Satan did not come, nothing muchwas going on, and we boys could not venture to go and see Marget,because the nights were moonlit and our parents might find us out if wetried. But we came across Ursula a couple of times taking a walk in themeadows beyond th
Marget was enduring her forsakenness and isolation fairly well, allthings considered, and was cheerful, by help of Wilhelm Meidling. Shespent an hour or two every night in the jail with her uncle, and hadfattened him up with the cat's contributions. But she was curious toknow more about Philip Traum, and hoped I would bring him again. Ursulawas curious about him herself, and asked a good many questions about hisuncle. It made the boys laugh, for I had told them the nonsense Satanhad been stuffing her with. She got no satisfaction out of us, ourtongues being tied.
Ursula gave us a small item of information: money being plenty now,she had taken on a servant to help about the house and run errands. Shetried to tell it in a commonplace, matter-of-course way, but she was soset up by it and so vain of it that her pride in it leaked out prettyplainly. It was beautiful to see her veiled delight in this grandeur,poor old thing, but when we heard the name of the servant we wonderedif she had been altogether wise; for although we were young, and oftenthoughtless, we had fairly good perception on some matters. This boy wasGottfried Narr, a dull, good creature, with no harm in him and nothingagainst him personally; still, he was under a cloud, and properly so,for it had not been six months since a social blight had mildewed thefamily--his grandmother had been burned as a witch. When that kind ofa malady is in the blood it does not always come out with just oneburning. Just now was not a good time for Ursula and Marget to be havingdealings with a member of such a family, for the witch-terror had risenhigher during the past year than it had ever reached in the memory ofthe oldest villagers. The mere mention of a witch was almost enough tofrighten us out of our wits. This was natural enough, because of lateyears there were more kinds of witches than there used to be; in oldtimes it had been only old women, but of late years they were of allages--even children of eight and nine; it was getting so that anybodymight turn out to be a familiar of the Devil--age and sex hadn'tanything to do with it. In our little region we had tried to extirpatethe witches, but the more of them we burned the more of the breed roseup in their places.
Once, in a school for girls only ten miles away, the teachers found thatthe back of one of the girls was all red and inflamed, and they weregreatly frightened, believing it to be the Devil's marks. The girl wasscared, and begged them not to denounce her, and said it was only fleas;but of course it would not do to let the matter rest there. All thegirls were examined, and eleven out of the fifty were badly marked, therest less so. A commission was appointed, but the eleven only cried fortheir mothers and would not confess. Then they were shut up, each byherself, in the dark, and put on black bread and water for ten days andnights; and by that time they were haggard and wild, and their eyes weredry and they did not cry any more, but only sat and mumbled, and wouldnot take the food. Then one of them confessed, and said they had oftenridden through the air on broomsticks to the witches' Sabbath, and in ableak place high up in the mountains had danced and drunk and carousedwith several hundred other witches and the Evil One, and all hadconducted themselves in a scandalous way and had reviled the priests andblasphemed God. That is what she said--not in narrative form, for shewas not able to remember any of the details without having them calledto her mind one after the other; but the commission did that, for theyknew just what questions to ask, they being all written down for the useof witch-commissioners two centuries before. They asked, "Did you do soand so?" and she always said yes, and looked weary and tired, andtook no interest in it. And so when the other ten heard that this oneconfessed, they confessed, too, and answered yes to the questions. Thenthey were burned at the stake all together, which was just and right;and everybody went from all the countryside to see it. I went, too; butwhen I saw that one of them was a bonny, sweet girl I used to play with,and looked so pitiful there chained to the stake, and her mother cryingover her and devouring her with kisses and clinging around her neck, andsaying, "Oh, my God! Oh, my God!" it was too dreadful, and I went away.
It was bitter cold weather when Gottfried's grandmother was burned. Itwas charged that she had cured bad headaches by kneading the person'shead and neck with her fingers--as she said--but really by the Devil'shelp, as everybody knew. They were going to examine her, but she stoppedthem, and confessed straight off that her power was from the Devil. Sothey appointed to burn her next morning, early, in our market-square.The officer who was to prepare the fire was there first, and preparedit. She was there next--brought by the constables, who left her and wentto fetch another witch. Her family did not come with her. They might bereviled, maybe stoned, if the people were excited. I came, and gave heran apple. She was squatting at the fire, warming herself and waiting;and her old lips and hands were blue with the cold. A stranger camenext. He was a traveler, passing through; and he spoke to her gently,and, seeing nobody but me there to hear, said he was sorry for her.And he asked if what she confessed was true, and she said no. He lookedsurprised and still more sorry then, and asked her:
"Then why did you confess?"
"I am old and very poor," she said, "and I work for my living. Therewas no way but to confess. If I hadn't they might have set me free.That would ruin me, for no one would forget that I had been suspected ofbeing a witch, and so I would get no more work, and wherever I went theywould set the dogs on me. In a little while I would starve. The fire isbest; it is soon over. You have been good to me, you two, and I thankyou."
She snuggled closer to the fire, and put out her hands to warm them, thesnow-flakes descending soft and still on her old gray head and makingit white and whiter. The crowd was gathering now, and an egg came flyingand struck her in the eye, and broke and ran down her face. There was alaugh at that.
I told Satan all about the eleven girls and the old woman, once, butit did not affect him. He only said it was the human race, and what thehuman race did was of no consequence. And he said he had seen it made;and it was not made of clay; it was made of mud--part of it was, anyway.I knew what he meant by that--the Moral Sense. He saw the thought in myhead, and it tickled him and made him laugh. Then he called a bullockout of a pasture and petted it and talked with it, and said:
"There--he wouldn't drive children mad with hunger and fright andloneliness, and then burn them for confessing to things invented forthem which had never happened. And neither would he break the hearts ofinnocent, poor old women and make them afraid to trust themselves amongtheir own race; and he would not insult them in their death-agony. Forhe is not besmirched with the Moral Sense, but is as the angels are, andknows no wrong, and never does it."
Lovely as he was, Satan could be cruelly offensive when he chose; and healways chose when the human race was brought to his attention. He alwaysturned up his nose at it, and never had a kind word for it.
Well, as I was saying, we boys doubted if it was a good time for Ursulato be hiring a member of the Narr family. We were right. When the peoplefound it out they were naturally indignant. And, moreover, since Margetand Ursula hadn't enough to eat themselves, where was the money comingfrom to feed another mouth? That is what they wanted to know; and inorder to find out they stopped avoiding Gottfried and began to seek hissociety and have sociable conversations with him. He was pleased--notthinking any harm and not seeing the trap--and so he talked innocentlyalong, and was no discreeter than a cow.
"Money!" he said; "they've got plenty of it. They pay me two groschen aweek, besides my keep. And they live on the fat of the land, I can tellyou; the prince himself can't beat their table."
This astonishing statement was conveyed by the astrologer to FatherAdolf on a Sunday morning when he was returning from mass. He was deeplymoved, and said:
"This must be looked into."
He said there must be witchcraft at the bottom of it, and told thevillagers to resume relations with Marget and Ursula
And so poor Marget began to have company again, and was as pleased asa cat. She was like 'most anybody else--just human, and happy in herprosperities and not averse from showing them off a little; and she washumanly grateful to have the warm shoulder turned to her and be smiledupon by her friends and the village again; for of all the hard things tobear, to be cut by your neighbors and left in contemptuous solitude ismaybe the hardest.
The bars were down, and we could all go there now, and we did--ourparents and all--day after day. The cat began to strain herself.She provided the top of everything for those companies, and inabundance--among them many a dish and many a wine which they had nottasted before and which they had not even heard of except at second-handfrom the prince's servants. And the tableware was much above ordinary,too.
Marget was troubled at times, and pursued Ursula with questions to anuncomfortable degree; but Ursula stood her ground and stuck to it thatit was Providence, and said no word about the cat. Marget knew thatnothing was impossible to Providence, but she could not help havingdoubts that this effort was from there, though she was afraid to say so,lest disaster come of it. Witchcraft occurred to her, but she put thethought aside, for this was before Gottfried joined the household, andshe knew Ursula was pious and a bitter hater of witches. By the timeGottfried arrived Providence was established, unshakably intrenched,and getting all the gratitude. The cat made no murmur, but went oncomposedly improving in style and prodigality by experience.
In any community, big or little, there is always a fair proportionof people who are not malicious or unkind by nature, and who never dounkind things except when they are overmastered by fear, or whentheir self-interest is greatly in danger, or some such matter as that.Eseldorf had its proportion of such people, and ordinarily their goodand gentle influence was felt, but these were not ordinary times--onaccount of the witch-dread--and so we did not seem to have any gentleand compassionate hearts left, to speak of. Every person was frightenedat the unaccountable state of things at Marget's house, not doubtingthat witchcraft was at the bottom of it, and fright frenzied theirreason. Naturally there were some who pitied Marget and Ursula for thedanger that was gathering about them, but naturally they did not say so;it would not have been safe. So the others had it all their own way,and there was none to advise the ignorant girl and the foolish woman andwarn them to modify their doings. We boys wanted to warn them, but webacked down when it came to the pinch, being afraid. We found that wewere not manly enough nor brave enough to do a generous action whenthere was a chance that it could get us into trouble. Neither of usconfessed this poor spirit to the others, but did as other people wouldhave done--dropped the subject and talked about something else. And Iknew we all felt mean, eating and drinking Marget's fine things alongwith those companies of spies, and petting her and complimenting herwith the rest, and seeing with self-reproach how foolishly happy shewas, and never saying a word to put her on her guard. And, indeed, shewas happy, and as proud as a princess, and so grateful to have friendsagain. And all the time these people were watching with all their eyesand reporting all they saw to Father Adolf.
But he couldn't make head or tail of the situation. There must be anenchanter somewhere on the premises, but who was it? Marget was not seento do any jugglery, nor was Ursula, nor yet Gottfried; and still thewines and dainties never ran short, and a guest could not call for athing and not get it. To produce these effects was usual enough withwitches and enchanters--that part of it was not new; but to do itwithout any incantations, or even any rumblings or earthquakes orlightnings or apparitions--that was new, novel, wholly irregular. Therewas nothing in the books like this. Enchanted things were always unreal.Gold turned to dirt in an unenchanted atmosphere, food withered away andvanished. But this test failed in the present case. The spies broughtsamples: Father Adolf prayed over them, exorcised them, but it did nogood; they remained sound and real, they yielded to natural decay only,and took the usual time to do it.
Father Adolf was not merely puzzled, he was also exasperated; forthese evidences very nearly convinced him--privately--that there was nowitchcraft in the matter. It did not wholly convince him, for this couldbe a new kind of witchcraft. There was a way to find out as to this:if this prodigal abundance of provender was not brought in from theoutside, but produced on the premises, there was witchcraft, sure.
Marget announced a party, and invited forty people; the date for it wasseven days away. This was a fine opportunity. Marget's house stood byitself, and it could be easily watched. All the week it was watchednight and day. Marget's household went out and in as usual, but theycarried nothing in their hands, and neither they nor others broughtanything to the house. This was ascertained. Evidently rations for fortypeople were not being fetched. If they were furnished any sustenance itwould have to be made on the premises. It was true that Marget went outwith a basket every evening, but the spies ascertained that she alwaysbrought it back empty.
The guests arrived at noon and filled the place. Father Adolf followed;also, after a little, the astrologer, without invitation. The spies hadinformed him that neither at the back nor the front had any parcelsbeen brought in. He entered, and found the eating and drinking goingon finely, and everything progressing in a lively and festive way. Heglanced around and perceived that many of the cooked delicacies and allof the native and foreign fruits were of a perishable character, and healso recognized that these were fresh and perfect. No apparitions, noincantations, no thunder. That settled it. This was witchcraft. And notonly that, but of a new kind--a kind never dreamed of before. It wasa prodigious power, an illustrious power; he resolved to discover itssecret. The announcement of it would resound throughout the world,penetrate to the remotest lands, paralyze all the nations withamazement--and carry his name with it, and make him renowned forever. Itwas a wonderful piece of luck, a splendid piece of luck; the glory of itmade him dizzy.
All the house made room for him; Marget politely seated him; Ursulaordered Gottfried to bring a special table for him. Then she decked itand furnished it, and asked for his orders.
"Bring me what you will," he said.
The two servants brought supplies from the pantry, together with whitewine and red--a bottle of each. The astrologer, who very likely hadnever seen such delicacies before, poured out a beaker of red wine,drank it off, poured another, then began to eat with a grand appetite.
I was not expecting Satan, for it was more than a week since I hadseen or heard of him, but now he came in--I knew it by the feel, thoughpeople were in the way and I could not see him. I heard him apologizingfor intruding; and he was going away, but Marget urged him to stay, andhe thanked her and stayed. She brought him along, introducing him to thegirls, and to Meidling, and to some of the elders; and there was quitea rustle of whispers: "It's the young stranger we hear so much aboutand can't get sight of, he is away so much." "Dear, dear, but he isbeautiful--what is his name?" "Philip Traum." "Ah, it fits him!" (Yousee, "Traum" is German for "Dream.") "What does he do?" "Studying forthe ministry, they say." "His face is his fortune--he'll be a cardinalsome day." "Where is his home?" "Away down somewhere in the tropics,they say--has a rich uncle down there." And so on. He made his way atonce; everybody was anxious to know him and talk with him. Everybodynoticed how cool and fresh it was, all of a sudden, and wondered at it,for they could see that the sun was beating down the same as before,outside, and the sky was clear of clouds, but no one guessed the reason,of course.
The astrologer had drunk his second beaker; he poure
It was brought--a four-quart one. He took up that two-pint bottle andbegan to pour; went on pouring, the red liquor gurgling and gushinginto the white bowl and rising higher and higher up its sides, everybodystaring and holding their breath--and presently the bowl was full to thebrim.
"Look at the bottle," he said, holding it up; "it is full yet!" Iglanced at Satan, and in that moment he vanished. Then Father Adolf roseup, flushed and excited, crossed himself, and began to thunder in hisgreat voice, "This house is bewitched and accursed!" People began to cryand shriek and crowd toward the door. "I summon this detected householdto--"
His words were cut off short. His face became red, then purple, but hecould not utter another sound. Then I saw Satan, a transparent film,melt into the astrologer's body; then the astrologer put up his hand,and apparently in his own voice said, "Wait--remain where you are." Allstopped where they stood. "Bring a funnel!" Ursula brought it, tremblingand scared, and he stuck it in the bottle and took up the great bowland began to pour the wine back, the people gazing and dazed withastonishment, for they knew the bottle was already full before he began.He emptied the whole of the bowl into the bottle, then smiled out overthe room, chuckled, and said, indifferently: "It is nothing--anybody cando it! With my powers I can even do much more."
A frightened cry burst out everywhere. "Oh, my God, he is possessed!"and there was a tumultuous rush for the door which swiftly emptied thehouse of all who did not belong in it except us boys and Meidling.We boys knew the secret, and would have told it if we could, but wecouldn't. We were very thankful to Satan for furnishing that good helpat the needful time.
Marget was pale, and crying; Meidling looked kind of petrified; Ursulathe same; but Gottfried was the worst--he couldn't stand, he was so weakand scared. For he was of a witch family, you know, and it would bebad for him to be suspected. Agnes came loafing in, looking pious andunaware, and wanted to rub up against Ursula and be petted, but Ursulawas afraid of her and shrank away from her, but pretending she was notmeaning any incivility, for she knew very well it wouldn't answer tohave strained relations with that kind of a cat. But we boys took Agnesand petted her, for Satan would not have befriended her if he had nothad a good opinion of her, and that was indorsement enough for us. Heseemed to trust anything that hadn't the Moral Sense.
Outside, the guests, panic-stricken, scattered in every direction andfled in a pitiable state of terror; and such a tumult as they made withtheir running and sobbing and shrieking and shouting that soon all thevillage came flocking from their houses to see what had happened, andthey thronged the street and shouldered and jostled one another inexcitement and fright; and then Father Adolf appeared, and they fellapart in two walls like the cloven Red Sea, and presently down this lanethe astrologer came striding and mumbling, and where he passed the lanessurged back in packed masses, and fell silent with awe, and their eyesstared and their breasts heaved, and several women fainted; and when hewas gone by the crowd swarmed together and followed him at a distance,talking excitedly and asking questions and finding out thefacts. Finding out the facts and passing them on to others, withimprovements--improvements which soon enlarged the bowl of wine to abarrel, and made the one bottle hold it all and yet remain empty to thelast.
When the astrologer reached the market-square he went straight to ajuggler, fantastically dressed, who was keeping three brass balls in theair, and took them from him and faced around upon the approaching crowdand said: "This poor clown is ignorant of his art. Come forward and seean expert perform."
So saying, he tossed the balls up one after another and set themwhirling in a slender bright oval in the air, and added another, thenanother and another, and soon--no one seeing whence he got them--adding,adding, adding, the oval lengthening all the time, his hands moving soswiftly that they were just a web or a blur and not distinguishable ashands; and such as counted said there were now a hundred balls in theair. The spinning great oval reached up twenty feet in the air and wasa shining and glinting and wonderful sight. Then he folded his armsand told the balls to go on spinning without his help--and they did it.After a couple of minutes he said, "There, that will do," and the ovalbroke and came crashing down, and the balls scattered abroad and rolledevery whither. And wherever one of them came the people fell back indread, and no one would touch it. It made him laugh, and he scoffed atthe people and called them cowards and old women. Then he turned and sawthe tight-rope, and said foolish people were daily wasting their moneyto see a clumsy and ignorant varlet degrade that beautiful art; now theyshould see the work of a master. With that he made a spring into the airand lit firm on his feet on the rope. Then he hopped the whole length ofit back and forth on one foot, with his hands clasped over his eyes; andnext he began to throw somersaults, both backward and forward, and threwtwenty-seven.
The people murmured, for the astrologer was old, and always beforehad been halting of movement and at times even lame, but he was nimbleenough now and went on with his antics in the liveliest manner. Finallyhe sprang lightly down and walked away, and passed up the road andaround the corner and disappeared. Then that great, pale, silent, solidcrowd drew a deep breath and looked into one another's faces as ifthey said: "Was it real? Did you see it, or was it only I--and was Idreaming?" Then they broke into a low murmur of talking, and fell apartin couples, and moved toward their homes, still talking in that awedway, with faces close together and laying a hand on an arm and makingother such gestures as people make when they have been deeply impressedby something.
We boys followed behind our fathers, and listened, catching all we couldof what they said; and when they sat down in our house and continuedtheir talk they still had us for company. They were in a sad mood, forit was certain, they said, that disaster for the village must followthis awful visitation of witches and devils. Then my fatherremembered that father Adolf had been struck dumb at the moment of hisdenunciation.
"They have not ventured to lay their hands upon an anointed servantof God before," he said; "and how they could have dared it this time Icannot make out, for he wore his crucifix. Isn't it so?"
"Yes," said the others, "we saw it."
"It is serious, friends, it is very serious. Always before, we had aprotection. It has failed."
The others shook, as with a sort of chill, and muttered those wordsover--"It has failed." "God has forsaken us."
"It is true," said Seppi Wohlmeyer's father; "there is nowhere to lookfor help."
"The people will realize this," said Nikolaus's father, the judge, "anddespair will take away their courage and their energies. We have indeedfallen upon evil times."
He sighed, and Wohlmeyer said, in a troubled voice: "The report of itall will go about the country, and our village will be shunned as beingunder the displeasure of God. The Golden Stag will know hard times."
"True, neighbor," said my father; "all of us will suffer--all in repute,many in estate. And, good God!--"
"What is it?"
"That can come--to finish us!"
"Name it--um Gottes Willen!"
It smote like a thunderclap, and they were like to swoon with the terrorof it. Then the dread of this calamity roused their energies, and theystopped brooding and began to consider ways to avert it. They discussedthis, that, and the other way, and talked till the afternoon was farspent, then confessed that at present they could arrive at no decision.So they parted sorrowfully, with oppressed hearts which were filled withbodings.
While they were saying their parting words I slipped out and set mycourse for Marget's house to see what was happening there. I met manypeople, but none of them greeted me. It ought to have been surprising,but it was not, for they were so distraught with fear and dread thatthey were not in their right mind
At Marget's it was like a funeral. She and Wilhelm sat together on thesofa, but said nothing, and not even holding hands. Both were steepedin gloom, and Marget's eyes were red from the crying she had been doing.She said:
"I have been begging him to go, and come no more, and so save himselfalive. I cannot bear to be his murderer. This house is bewitched, andno inmate will escape the fire. But he will not go, and he will be lostwith the rest."
Wilhelm said he would not go; if there was danger for her, his place wasby her, and there he would remain. Then she began to cry again, and itwas all so mournful that I wished I had stayed away. There was a knock,now, and Satan came in, fresh and cheery and beautiful, and brought thatwiny atmosphere of his and changed the whole thing. He never said aword about what had been happening, nor about the awful fears which werefreezing the blood in the hearts of the community, but began to talk andrattle on about all manner of gay and pleasant things; and next aboutmusic--an artful stroke which cleared away the remnant of Marget'sdepression and brought her spirits and her interests broad awake. Shehad not heard any one talk so well and so knowingly on that subjectbefore, and she was so uplifted by it and so charmed that what she wasfeeling lit up her face and came out in her words; and Wilhelm noticedit and did not look as pleased as he ought to have done. And next Satanbranched off into poetry, and recited some, and did it well, and Margetwas charmed again; and again Wilhelm was not as pleased as he ought tohave been, and this time Marget noticed it and was remorseful.
I fell asleep to pleasant music that night--the patter of rain upon thepanes and the dull growling of distant thunder. Away in the night Satancame and roused me and said: "Come with me. Where shall we go?"
"Anywhere--so it is with you."
Then there was a fierce glare of sunlight, and he said, "This is China."
That was a grand surprise, and made me sort of drunk with vanity andgladness to think I had come so far--so much, much farther than anybodyelse in our village, including Bartel Sperling, who had such a greatopinion of his travels. We buzzed around over that empire for more thanhalf an hour, and saw the whole of it. It was wonderful, the spectacleswe saw; and some were beautiful, others too horrible to think. Forinstance--However, I may go into that by and by, and also why Satanchose China for this excursion instead of another place; it wouldinterrupt my tale to do it now. Finally we stopped flitting and lit.
We sat upon a mountain commanding a vast landscape of mountain-rangeand gorge and valley and plain and river, with cities and villagesslumbering in the sunlight, and a glimpse of blue sea on the fartherverge. It was a tranquil and dreamy picture, beautiful to the eye andrestful to the spirit. If we could only make a change like that wheneverwe wanted to, the world would be easier to live in than it is, forchange of scene shifts the mind's burdens to the other shoulder andbanishes old, shop-worn wearinesses from mind and body both.
We talked together, and I had the idea of trying to reform Satan andpersuade him to lead a better life. I told him about all those thingshe had been doing, and begged him to be more considerate and stop makingpeople unhappy. I said I knew he did not mean any harm, but that heought to stop and consider the possible consequences of a thing beforelaunching it in that impulsive and random way of his; then he wouldnot make so much trouble. He was not hurt by this plain speech; he onlylooked amused and surprised, and said:
"What? I do random things? Indeed, I never do. I stop and considerpossible consequences? Where is the need? I know what the consequencesare going to be--always."
"Oh, Satan, then how could you do these things?"
"Well, I will tell you, and you must understand if you can. Youbelong to a singular race. Every man is a suffering-machine anda happiness-machine combined. The two functions work togetherharmoniously, with a fine and delicate precision, on the give-and-takeprinciple. For every happiness turned out in the one department theother stands ready to modify it with a sorrow or a pain--maybe a dozen.In most cases the man's life is about equally divided betweenhappiness and unhappiness. When this is not the case the unhappinesspredominates--always; never the other. Sometimes a man's make anddisposition are such that his misery-machine is able to do nearly allthe business. Such a man goes through life almost ignorant of whathappiness is. Everything he touches, everything he does, brings amisfortune upon him. You have seen such people? To that kind of a personlife is not an advantage, is it? It is only a disaster. Sometimes for anhour's happiness a man's machinery makes him pay years of misery. Don'tyou know that? It happens every now and then. I will give you a caseor two presently. Now the people of your village are nothing to me--youknow that, don't you?"
I did not like to speak out too flatly, so I said I had suspected it.
"Well, it is true that they are nothing to me. It is not possiblethat they should be. The difference between them and me is abysmal,immeasurable. They have no intellect."
"Nothing that resembles it. At a future time I will examine what mancalls his mind and give you the details of that chaos, then you will seeand understand. Men have nothing in common with me--there is no point ofcontact; they have foolish little feelings and foolish little vanitiesand impertinences and ambitions; their foolish little life is but alaugh, a sigh, and extinction; and they have no sense. Only the MoralSense. I will show you what I mean. Here is a red spider, not so bigas a pin's head. Can you imagine an elephant being interested inhim--caring whether he is happy or isn't, or whether he is wealthy orpoor, or whether his sweetheart returns his love or not, or whether hismother is sick or well, or whether he is looked up to in society ornot, or whether his enemies will smite him or his friends desert him, orwhether his hopes will suffer blight or his political ambitions fail,or whether he shall die in the bosom of his family or neglected anddespised in a foreign land? These things can never be important to theelephant; they are nothing to him; he cannot shrink his sympathies tothe microscopic size of them. Man is to me as the red spider is to theelephant. The elephant has nothing against the spider--he cannot getdown to that remote level; I have nothing against man. The elephant isindifferent; I am indifferent. The elephant would not take the troubleto do the spider an ill turn; if he took the notion he might do him agood turn, if it came in his way and cost nothing. I have done men goodservice, but no ill turns.
"The elephant lives a century, the red spider a day; in power,intellect, and dignity the one creature is separated from the other bya distance which is simply astronomical. Yet in these, as in allqualities, man is immeasurably further below me than is the wee spiderbelow the elephant.
"Man's mind clumsily and tediously and laboriously patches littletrivialities together and gets a result--such as it is. My mind creates!Do you get the force of that? Creates anything it desires--and ina moment. Creates without material. Creates fluids, solids,colors--anything, everything--out of the airy nothing which is calledThought. A man imagines a silk thread, imagines a machine to make it,imagines a picture, then by weeks of labor embroiders it on canvaswith the thread. I think the whole thing, and in a moment it is beforeyou--created.
"I think a poem, music, the record of a game of chess--anything--andit is there. This is the immortal mind--nothing is beyond its reach.Nothing can obstruct my vision; the rocks are transparent to me, anddarkness is daylight. I do not need to open a book; I take the whole ofits contents into my mind at a single glance, through the cover; and ina million years I could not forget a single word of it, or its place inthe volume. Nothing goes on in the skull of man, bird, fish, insect, orother creature which can be hidden from me. I pierce the learned man'sbrain with a single glance, and the treasures which cost him threescoreyears to accumulate are mine; he can forget, and he does forget, but Iretain.
"Now, then, I perceive by your thoughts that you are understa
He saw that I was thinking a sarcasm, and he explained his position.
"I have wrought well for the villagers, though it does not look likeit on the surface. Your race never know good fortune from ill. They arealways mistaking the one for the other. It is because they cannot seeinto the future. What I am doing for the villagers will bear good fruitsome day; in some cases to themselves; in others, to unborn generationsof men. No one will ever know that I was the cause, but it will be nonethe less true, for all that. Among you boys you have a game: you stand arow of bricks on end a few inches apart; you push a brick, it knocks itsneighbor over, the neighbor knocks over the next brick--and so on tillall the row is prostrate. That is human life. A child's first act knocksover the initial brick, and the rest will follow inexorably. If youcould see into the future, as I can, you would see everything that wasgoing to happen to that creature; for nothing can change the order ofits life after the first event has determined it. That is, nothing willchange it, because each act unfailingly begets an act, that act begetsanother, and so on to the end, and the seer can look forward down theline and see just when each act is to have birth, from cradle to grave."
"Does God order the career?"
"Foreordain it? No. The man's circumstances and environment order it.His first act determines the second and all that follow after. Butsuppose, for argument's sake, that the man should skip one of theseacts; an apparently trifling one, for instance; suppose that it had beenappointed that on a certain day, at a certain hour and minute and secondand fraction of a second he should go to the well, and he didn't go.That man's career would change utterly, from that moment; thence to thegrave it would be wholly different from the career which his first actas a child had arranged for him. Indeed, it might be that if he hadgone to the well he would have ended his career on a throne, and thatomitting to do it would set him upon a career that would lead tobeggary and a pauper's grave. For instance: if at any time--say inboyhood--Columbus had skipped the triflingest little link in the chainof acts projected and made inevitable by his first childish act, itwould have changed his whole subsequent life, and he would have becomea priest and died obscure in an Italian village, and America would nothave been discovered for two centuries afterward. I know this. Toskip any one of the billion acts in Columbus's chain would have whollychanged his life. I have examined his billion of possible careers, andin only one of them occurs the discovery of America. You people do notsuspect that all of your acts are of one size and importance, but it istrue; to snatch at an appointed fly is as big with fate for you as isany other appointed act--"
"As the conquering of a continent, for instance?"
"Yes. Now, then, no man ever does drop a link--the thing has neverhappened! Even when he is trying to make up his mind as to whetherhe will do a thing or not, that itself is a link, an act, and has itsproper place in his chain; and when he finally decides an act, that alsowas the thing which he was absolutely certain to do. You see, now, thata man will never drop a link in his chain. He cannot. If he made up hismind to try, that project would itself be an unavoidable link--a thoughtbound to occur to him at that precise moment, and made certain by thefirst act of his babyhood."
It seemed so dismal!
"He is a prisoner for life," I said sorrowfully, "and cannot get free."
"No, of himself he cannot get away from the consequences of his firstchildish act. But I can free him."
I looked up wistfully.
"I have changed the careers of a number of your villagers."
I tried to thank him, but found it difficult, and let it drop.
"I shall make some other changes. You know that little Lisa Brandt?"
"Oh yes, everybody does. My mother says she is so sweet and so lovelythat she is not like any other child. She says she will be the pride ofthe village when she grows up; and its idol, too, just as she is now."
"I shall change her future."
"Make it better?" I asked.
"Yes. And I will change the future of Nikolaus."
I was glad, this time, and said, "I don't need to ask about his case;you will be sure to do generously by him."
"It is my intention."
Straight off I was building that great future of Nicky's in myimagination, and had already made a renowned general of him andhofmeister at the court, when I noticed that Satan was waiting for meto get ready to listen again. I was ashamed of having exposed my cheapimaginings to him, and was expecting some sarcasms, but it did nothappen. He proceeded with his subject:
"Nicky's appointed life is sixty-two years."
"That's grand!" I said.
"Lisa's, thirty-six. But, as I told you, I shall change their lives andthose ages. Two minutes and a quarter from now Nikolaus will wake out ofhis sleep and find the rain blowing in. It was appointed that he shouldturn over and go to sleep again. But I have appointed that he shallget up and close the window first. That trifle will change his careerentirely. He will rise in the morning two minutes later than the chainof his life had appointed him to rise. By consequence, thenceforthnothing will ever happen to him in accordance with the details of theold chain." He took out his watch and sat looking at it a few moments,then said: "Nikolaus has risen to close the window. His life is changed,his new career has begun. There will be consequences."
It made me feel creepy; it was uncanny.
"But for this change certain things would happen twelve days from now.For instance, Nikolaus would save Lisa from drowning. He would arriveon the scene at exactly the right moment--four minutes past ten, thelong-ago appointed instant of time--and the water would be shoal, theachievement easy and certain. But he will arrive some seconds too late,now; Lisa will have struggled into deeper water. He will do his best,but both will drown."
"Oh, Satan! Oh, dear Satan!" I cried, with the tears rising in my eyes,"save them! Don't let it happen. I can't bear to lose Nikolaus, he is myloving playmate and friend; and think of Lisa's poor mother!"
I clung to him and begged and pleaded, but he was not moved. He made mesit down again, and told me I must hear him out.
"I have changed Nikolaus's life, and this has changed Lisa's. If I hadnot done this, Nikolaus would save Lisa, then he would catch cold fromhis drenching; one of your race's fantastic and desolating scarletfevers would follow, with pathetic after-effects; for forty-six yearshe would lie in his bed a paralytic log, deaf, dumb, blind, and prayingnight and day for the blessed relief of death. Shall I change his lifeback?"
"Oh no! Oh, not for the world! In charity and pity leave it as it is."
"It is best so. I could not have changed any other link in his life anddone him so good a service. He had a billion possible careers, but notone of them was worth living; they were charged full with miseries anddisasters. But for my intervention he would do his brave deed twelvedays from now--a deed begun and ended in six minutes--and get for allreward those forty-six years of sorrow and suffering I told you of.It is one of the cases I was thinking of awhile ago when I saidthat sometimes an act which brings the actor an hour's happiness andself-satisfaction is paid for--or punished--by years of suffering."
I wondered what poor little Lisa's early death would save her from. Heanswered the thought:
"From ten years of pain and slow recovery from an accident, and thenfrom nineteen years' pollution, shame, depravity, crime, ending withdeath at the hands of the executioner. Twelve days hence she will die;her mother wou
"Yes--oh, indeed yes; and wiser."
"Father Peter's case is coming on presently. He will be acquitted,through unassailable proofs of his innocence."
"Why, Satan, how can that be? Do you really think it?"
"Indeed, I know it. His good name will be restored, and the rest of hislife will be happy."
"I can believe it. To restore his good name will have that effect."
"His happiness will not proceed from that cause. I shall change hislife that day, for his good. He will never know his good name has beenrestored."
In my mind--and modestly--I asked for particulars, but Satan paid noattention to my thought. Next, my mind wandered to the astrologer, and Iwondered where he might be.
"In the moon," said Satan, with a fleeting sound which I believed wasa chuckle. "I've got him on the cold side of it, too. He doesn't knowwhere he is, and is not having a pleasant time; still, it is good enoughfor him, a good place for his star studies. I shall need him presently;then I shall bring him back and possess him again. He has a long andcruel and odious life before him, but I will change that, for I have nofeeling against him and am quite willing to do him a kindness. I think Ishall get him burned."
He had such strange notions of kindness! But angels are made so, anddo not know any better. Their ways are not like our ways; and, besides,human beings are nothing to them; they think they are only freaks. Itseems to me odd that he should put the astrologer so far away; he couldhave dumped him in Germany just as well, where he would be handy.
"Far away?" said Satan. "To me no place is far away; distance does notexist for me. The sun is less than a hundred million miles from here,and the light that is falling upon us has taken eight minutes to come;but I can make that flight, or any other, in a fraction of time sominute that it cannot be measured by a watch. I have but to think thejourney, and it is accomplished."
I held out my hand and said, "The light lies upon it; think it into aglass of wine, Satan."
He did it. I drank the wine.
"Break the glass," he said.
I broke it.
"There--you see it is real. The villagers thought the brass balls weremagic stuff and as perishable as smoke. They were afraid to touch them.You are a curious lot--your race. But come along; I have business. Iwill put you to bed." Said and done. Then he was gone; but his voicecame back to me through the rain and darkness saying, "Yes, tell Seppi,but no other."
It was the answer to my thought.
Sleep would not come. It was not because I was proud of my travels andexcited about having been around the big world to China, and feelingcontemptuous of Bartel Sperling, "the traveler," as he called himself,and looked down upon us others because he had been to Vienna once andwas the only Eseldorf boy who had made such a journey and seen theworld's wonders. At another time that would have kept me awake, but itdid not affect me now. No, my mind was filled with Nikolaus, my thoughtsran upon him only, and the good days we had seen together at romps andfrolics in the woods and the fields and the river in the long summerdays, and skating and sliding in the winter when our parents thoughtwe were in school. And now he was going out of this young life, and thesummers and winters would come and go, and we others would rove and playas before, but his place would be vacant; we should see him no more.To-morrow he would not suspect, but would be as he had always been,and it would shock me to hear him laugh, and see him do lightsome andfrivolous things, for to me he would be a corpse, with waxen hands anddull eyes, and I should see the shroud around his face; and next day hewould not suspect, nor the next, and all the time his handful of dayswould be wasting swiftly away and that awful thing coming nearer andnearer, his fate closing steadily around him and no one knowing it butSeppi and me. Twelve days--only twelve days. It was awful to think of. Inoticed that in my thoughts I was not calling him by his familiarnames, Nick and Nicky, but was speaking of him by his full name, andreverently, as one speaks of the dead. Also, as incident after incidentof our comradeship came thronging into my mind out of the past, Inoticed that they were mainly cases where I had wronged him or hurthim, and they rebuked me and reproached me, and my heart was wrung withremorse, just as it is when we remember our unkindnesses to friends whohave passed beyond the veil, and we wish we could have them back again,if only for a moment, so that we could go on our knees to them and say,"Have pity, and forgive."
Once when we were nine years old he went a long errand of nearly twomiles for the fruiterer, who gave him a splendid big apple for reward,and he was flying home with it, almost beside himself with astonishmentand delight, and I met him, and he let me look at the apple, notthinking of treachery, and I ran off with it, eating it as I ran, hefollowing me and begging; and when he overtook me I offered him thecore, which was all that was left; and I laughed. Then he turned away,crying, and said he had meant to give it to his little sister. Thatsmote me, for she was slowly getting well of a sickness, and it wouldhave been a proud moment for him, to see her joy and surprise and haveher caresses. But I was ashamed to say I was ashamed, and only saidsomething rude and mean, to pretend I did not care, and he made no replyin words, but there was a wounded look in his face as he turned awaytoward his home which rose before me many times in after years, in thenight, and reproached me and made me ashamed again. It had grown dim inmy mind, by and by, then it disappeared; but it was back now, and notdim.
Once at school, when we were eleven, I upset my ink and spoiled fourcopy-books, and was in danger of severe punishment; but I put it uponhim, and he got the whipping.
And only last year I had cheated him in a trade, giving him a largefish-hook which was partly broken through for three small sound ones.The first fish he caught broke the hook, but he did not know I wasblamable, and he refused to take back one of the small hooks which myconscience forced me to offer him, but said, "A trade is a trade; thehook was bad, but that was not your fault."
No, I could not sleep. These little, shabby wrongs upbraided me andtortured me, and with a pain much sharper than one feels when the wrongshave been done to the living. Nikolaus was living, but no matter; he wasto me as one already dead. The wind was still moaning about the eaves,the rain still pattering upon the panes.
In the morning I sought out Seppi and told him. It was down by theriver. His lips moved, but he did not say anything, he only looked dazedand stunned, and his face turned very white. He stood like that a fewmoments, the tears welling into his eyes, then he turned away and Ilocked my arm in his and we walked along thinking, but not speaking.We crossed the bridge and wandered through the meadows and up among thehills and the woods, and at last the talk came and flowed freely, and itwas all about Nikolaus and was a recalling of the life we had lived withhim. And every now and then Seppi said, as if to himself:
"Twelve days!--less than twelve days."
We said we must be with him all the time; we must have all of him wecould; the days were precious now. Yet we did not go to seek him. Itwould be like meeting the dead, and we were afraid. We did not say it,but that was what we were feeling. And so it gave us a shock when weturned a curve and came upon Nikolaus face to face. He shouted, gaily:
"Hi-hi! What is the matter? Have you seen a ghost?"
We couldn't speak, but there was no occasion; he was willing to talkfor us all, for he had just seen Satan and was in high spirits about it.Satan had told him about our trip to China, and he had begged Satan totake him a journey, and Satan had promised. It was to be a far journey,and wonderful and beautiful; and Nikolaus had begged him to take us,too, but he said no, he would take us some day, maybe, but not now.Satan would come for him on the 13th, and Nikolaus was already countingthe hours, he was so impatient.
That was the fatal day. We were already counting the hours, too.
We wandered many a mile, always following paths which had been ourfavorites from the days when we were little, and always we talked aboutthe old times. All the blitheness was with Niko
As we walked along homeward, Seppi said, "We always prized him, butnever so much as now, when we are going to lose him."
Next day and every day we spent all of our spare time with Nikolaus;and also added to it time which we (and he) stole from work and otherduties, and this cost the three of us some sharp scoldings, and somethreats of punishment. Every morning two of us woke with a start anda shudder, saying, as the days flew along, "Only ten days left;" "onlynine days left;" "only eight;" "only seven." Always it was narrowing.Always Nikolaus was gay and happy, and always puzzled because we werenot. He wore his invention to the bone trying to invent ways to cheer usup, but it was only a hollow success; he could see that our jollity hadno heart in it, and that the laughs we broke into came up against someobstruction or other and suffered damage and decayed into a sigh. Hetried to find out what the matter was, so that he could help us out ofour trouble or make it lighter by sharing it with us; so we had to tellmany lies to deceive him and appease him.
But the most distressing thing of all was that he was always makingplans, and often they went beyond the 13th! Whenever that happened itmade us groan in spirit. All his mind was fixed upon finding some wayto conquer our depression and cheer us up; and at last, when he had butthree days to live, he fell upon the right idea and was jubilant overit--a boys-and-girls' frolic and dance in the woods, up there where wefirst met Satan, and this was to occur on the 14th. It was ghastly, forthat was his funeral day. We couldn't venture to protest; it would onlyhave brought a "Why?" which we could not answer. He wanted us to helphim invite his guests, and we did it--one can refuse nothing to a dyingfriend. But it was dreadful, for really we were inviting them to hisfuneral.
It was an awful eleven days; and yet, with a lifetime stretching backbetween to-day and then, they are still a grateful memory to me, andbeautiful. In effect they were days of companionship with one's sacreddead, and I have known no comradeship that was so close or so precious.We clung to the hours and the minutes, counting them as they wastedaway, and parting with them with that pain and bereavement which a miserfeels who sees his hoard filched from him coin by coin by robbers and ishelpless to prevent it.
When the evening of the last day came we stayed out too long; Seppi andI were in fault for that; we could not bear to part with Nikolaus; soit was very late when we left him at his door. We lingered near awhile,listening; and that happened which we were fearing. His father gave himthe promised punishment, and we heard his shrieks. But we listened onlya moment, then hurried away, remorseful for this thing which we hadcaused. And sorry for the father, too; our thought being, "If he onlyknew--if he only knew!"
In the morning Nikolaus did not meet us at the appointed place, so wewent to his home to see what the matter was. His mother said:
"His father is out of all patience with these goings-on, and will nothave any more of it. Half the time when Nick is needed he is not to befound; then it turns out that he has been gadding around with you two.His father gave him a flogging last night. It always grieved me before,and many's the time I have begged him off and saved him, but this timehe appealed to me in vain, for I was out of patience myself."
"I wish you had saved him just this one time," I said, my voicetrembling a little; "it would ease a pain in your heart to remember itsome day."
She was ironing at the time, and her back was partly toward me. Sheturned about with a startled or wondering look in her face and said,"What do you mean by that?"
I was not prepared, and didn't know anything to say; so it was awkward,for she kept looking at me; but Seppi was alert and spoke up:
"Why, of course it would be pleasant to remember, for the very reasonwe were out so late was that Nikolaus got to telling how good you are tohim, and how he never got whipped when you were by to save him; and hewas so full of it, and we were so full of the interest of it, that noneof us noticed how late it was getting."
"Did he say that? Did he?" and she put her apron to her eyes.
"You can ask Theodor--he will tell you the same."
"It is a dear, good lad, my Nick," she said. "I am sorry I let him getwhipped; I will never do it again. To think--all the time I was sittinghere last night, fretting and angry at him, he was loving me andpraising me! Dear, dear, if we could only know! Then we shouldn't evergo wrong; but we are only poor, dumb beasts groping around and makingmistakes. I shan't ever think of last night without a pang."
She was like all the rest; it seemed as if nobody could open a mouth, inthese wretched days, without saying something that made us shiver. Theywere "groping around," and did not know what true, sorrowfully truethings they were saying by accident.
Seppi asked if Nikolaus might go out with us.
"I am sorry," she answered, "but he can't. To punish him further, hisfather doesn't allow him to go out of the house to-day."
We had a great hope! I saw it in Seppi's eyes. We thought, "If he cannotleave the house, he cannot be drowned." Seppi asked, to make sure:
"Must he stay in all day, or only the morning?"
"All day. It's such a pity, too; it's a beautiful day, and he is sounused to being shut up. But he is busy planning his party, and maybethat is company for him. I do hope he isn't too lonesome."
Seppi saw that in her eye which emboldened him to ask if we might go upand help him pass his time.
"And welcome!" she said, right heartily. "Now I call that realfriendship, when you might be abroad in the fields and the woods, havinga happy time. You are good boys, I'll allow that, though you don'talways find satisfactory ways of improving it. Take these cakes--foryourselves--and give him this one, from his mother."
The first thing we noticed when we entered Nikolaus's room was thetime--a quarter to 10. Could that be correct? Only such a few minutes tolive! I felt a contraction at my heart. Nikolaus jumped up and gave usa glad welcome. He was in good spirits over his plannings for his partyand had not been lonesome.
"Sit down," he said, "and look at what I've been doing. And I'vefinished a kite that you will say is a beauty. It's drying, in thekitchen; I'll fetch it."
He had been spending his penny savings in fanciful trifles of variouskinds, to go as prizes in the games, and they were marshaled with fineand showy effect upon the table. He said:
"Examine them at your leisure while I get mother to touch up the kitewith her iron if it isn't dry enough yet."
Then he tripped out and went clattering down-stairs, whistling.
We did not look at the things; we couldn't take any interest in anythingbut the clock. We sat staring at it in silence, listening tothe ticking, and every time the minute-hand jumped we noddedrecognition--one minute fewer to cover in the race for life or fordeath. Finally Seppi drew a deep breath and said:
"Two minutes to ten. Seven minutes more and he will pass thedeath-point. Theodor, he is going to be saved! He's going to--"
"Hush! I'm on needles. Watch the clock and keep still."
Five minutes more. We were panting with the strain and the excitement.Another three minutes, and there was a footstep on the stair.
"Saved!" And we jumped up and faced the door.
The old mother entered, bringing the kite. "Isn't it a beauty?" shesaid. "And, dear me, how he has slaved over it--ever since daylight,I think, and only finished i
"But where is he?"
"He? Oh, he'll be here soon; he's gone out a minute."
"Yes. Just as he came down-stairs little Lisa's mother came in and saidthe child had wandered off somewhere, and as she was a little uneasy Itold Nikolaus to never mind about his father's orders--go and look herup.... Why, how white you two do look! I do believe you are sick. Sitdown; I'll fetch something. That cake has disagreed with you. It is alittle heavy, but I thought--"
She disappeared without finishing her sentence, and we hurried at onceto the back window and looked toward the river. There was a great crowdat the other end of the bridge, and people were flying toward that pointfrom every direction.
"Oh, it is all over--poor Nikolaus! Why, oh, why did she let him get outof the house!"
"Come away," said Seppi, half sobbing, "come quick--we can't bear tomeet her; in five minutes she will know."
But we were not to escape. She came upon us at the foot of the stairs,with her cordials in her hands, and made us come in and sit down andtake the medicine. Then she watched the effect, and it did not satisfyher; so she made us wait longer, and kept upbraiding herself for givingus the unwholesome cake.
Presently the thing happened which we were dreading. There was a soundof tramping and scraping outside, and a crowd came solemnly in, withheads uncovered, and laid the two drowned bodies on the bed.
"Oh, my God!" that poor mother cried out, and fell on her knees, and puther arms about her dead boy and began to cover the wet face with kisses."Oh, it was I that sent him, and I have been his death. If I had obeyed,and kept him in the house, this would not have happened. And I amrightly punished; I was cruel to him last night, and him begging me, hisown mother, to be his friend."
And so she went on and on, and all the women cried, and pitied her, andtried to comfort her, but she could not forgive herself and could notbe comforted, and kept on saying if she had not sent him out he would bealive and well now, and she was the cause of his death.
It shows how foolish people are when they blame themselves for anythingthey have done. Satan knows, and he said nothing happens that your firstact hasn't arranged to happen and made inevitable; and so, of your ownmotion you can't ever alter the scheme or do a thing that will breaka link. Next we heard screams, and Frau Brandt came wildly plowing andplunging through the crowd with her dress in disorder and hair flyingloose, and flung herself upon her dead child with moans and kisses andpleadings and endearments; and by and by she rose up almost exhaustedwith her outpourings of passionate emotion, and clenched her fist andlifted it toward the sky, and her tear-drenched face grew hard andresentful, and she said:
"For nearly two weeks I have had dreams and presentiments and warningsthat death was going to strike what was most precious to me, and day andnight and night and day I have groveled in the dirt before Him prayingHim to have pity on my innocent child and save it from harm--and here isHis answer!"
Why, He had saved it from harm--but she did not know.
She wiped the tears from her eyes and cheeks, and stood awhile gazingdown at the child and caressing its face and its hair with her hands;then she spoke again in that bitter tone: "But in His hard heart is nocompassion. I will never pray again."
She gathered her dead child to her bosom and strode away, the crowdfalling back to let her pass, and smitten dumb by the awful words theyhad heard. Ah, that poor woman! It is as Satan said, we do not know goodfortune from bad, and are always mistaking the one for the other. Manya time since I have heard people pray to God to spare the life of sickpersons, but I have never done it.
Both funerals took place at the same time in our little church next day.Everybody was there, including the party guests. Satan was there, too;which was proper, for it was on account of his efforts that the funeralshad happened. Nikolaus had departed this life without absolution, anda collection was taken up for masses, to get him out of purgatory. Onlytwo-thirds of the required money was gathered, and the parents weregoing to try to borrow the rest, but Satan furnished it. He told usprivately that there was no purgatory, but he had contributed in orderthat Nikolaus's parents and their friends might be saved from worry anddistress. We thought it very good of him, but he said money did not costhim anything.
At the graveyard the body of little Lisa was seized for debt by acarpenter to whom the mother owed fifty groschen for work done the yearbefore. She had never been able to pay this, and was not able now. Thecarpenter took the corpse home and kept it four days in his cellar,the mother weeping and imploring about his house all the time; then heburied it in his brother's cattle-yard, without religious ceremonies. Itdrove the mother wild with grief and shame, and she forsook her workand went daily about the town, cursing the carpenter and blasphemingthe laws of the emperor and the church, and it was pitiful to see. Seppiasked Satan to interfere, but he said the carpenter and the rest weremembers of the human race and were acting quite neatly for that speciesof animal. He would interfere if he found a horse acting in such a way,and we must inform him when we came across that kind of horse doingthat kind of human thing, so that he could stop it. We believed this wassarcasm, for of course there wasn't any such horse.
But after a few days we found that we could not abide that poor woman'sdistress, so we begged Satan to examine her several possible careers,and see if he could not change her, to her profit, to a new one. He saidthe longest of her careers as they now stood gave her forty-two years tolive, and her shortest one twenty-nine, and that both were charged withgrief and hunger and cold and pain. The only improvement he could makewould be to enable her to skip a certain three minutes from now; andhe asked us if he should do it. This was such a short time to decide inthat we went to pieces with nervous excitement, and before we could pullourselves together and ask for particulars he said the time would be upin a few more seconds; so then we gasped out, "Do it!"
"It is done," he said; "she was going around a corner; I have turned herback; it has changed her career."
"Then what will happen, Satan?"
"It is happening now. She is having words with Fischer, the weaver. Inhis anger Fischer will straightway do what he would not have done butfor this accident. He was present when she stood over her child's bodyand uttered those blasphemies."
"What will he do?"
"He is doing it now--betraying her. In three days she will go to thestake."
We could not speak; we were frozen with horror, for if we had notmeddled with her career she would have been spared this awful fate.Satan noticed these thoughts, and said:
"What you are thinking is strictly human-like--that is to say, foolish.The woman is advantaged. Die when she might, she would go to heaven. Bythis prompt death she gets twenty-nine years more of heaven than she isentitled to, and escapes twenty-nine years of misery here."
A moment before we were bitterly making up our minds that we would askno more favors of Satan for friends of ours, for he did not seem toknow any way to do a person a kindness but by killing him; but the wholeaspect of the case was changed now, and we were glad of what we had doneand full of happiness in the thought of it.
After a little I began to feel troubled about Fischer, and asked,timidly, "Does this episode change Fischer's life-scheme, Satan?"
"Change it? Why, certainly. And radically. If he had not met Frau Brandtawhile ago he would die next year, thirty-four years of age. Now he willlive to be ninety, and have a pretty prosperous and comfortable life ofit, as human lives go."
We felt a great joy and pride in what we had done for Fischer, and wereexpecting Satan to sympathize with this feeling; but he showed no signand this made us uneasy. We waited for him to speak, but he di
"Well, the fact is, it is a delicate point. Under his several formerpossible life-careers he was going to heaven."
We were aghast. "Oh, Satan! and under this one--"
"There, don't be so distressed. You were sincerely trying to do him akindness; let that comfort you."
"Oh, dear, dear, that cannot comfort us. You ought to have told us whatwe were doing, then we wouldn't have acted so."
But it made no impression on him. He had never felt a pain or a sorrow,and did not know what they were, in any really informing way. He had noknowledge of them except theoretically--that is to say, intellectually.And of course that is no good. One can never get any but a loose andignorant notion of such things except by experience. We tried our bestto make him comprehend the awful thing that had been done and how wewere compromised by it, but he couldn't seem to get hold of it. He saidhe did not think it important where Fischer went to; in heaven he wouldnot be missed, there were "plenty there." We tried to make him see thathe was missing the point entirely; that Fischer, and not other people,was the proper one to decide about the importance of it; but it all wentfor nothing; he said he did not care for Fischer--there were plenty moreFischers.
The next minute Fischer went by on the other side of the way, and itmade us sick and faint to see him, remembering the doom that was uponhim, and we the cause of it. And how unconscious he was that anythinghad happened to him! You could see by his elastic step and his alertmanner that he was well satisfied with himself for doing that hardturn for poor Frau Brandt. He kept glancing back over his shoulderexpectantly. And, sure enough, pretty soon Frau Brandt followed after,in charge of the officers and wearing jingling chains. A mob was in herwake, jeering and shouting, "Blasphemer and heretic!" and some amongthem were neighbors and friends of her happier days. Some were tryingto strike her, and the officers were not taking as much trouble as theymight to keep them from it.
"Oh, stop them, Satan!" It was out before we remembered that hecould not interrupt them for a moment without changing their wholeafter-lives. He puffed a little puff toward them with his lips and theybegan to reel and stagger and grab at the empty air; then they brokeapart and fled in every direction, shrieking, as if in intolerable pain.He had crushed a rib of each of them with that little puff. We could nothelp asking if their life-chart was changed.
"Yes, entirely. Some have gained years, some have lost them. Some fewwill profit in various ways by the change, but only that few."
We did not ask if we had brought poor Fischer's luck to any of them.We did not wish to know. We fully believed in Satan's desire to do uskindnesses, but we were losing confidence in his judgment. It was atthis time that our growing anxiety to have him look over our life-chartsand suggest improvements began to fade out and give place to otherinterests.
For a day or two the whole village was a chattering turmoil over FrauBrandt's case and over the mysterious calamity that had overtaken themob, and at her trial the place was crowded. She was easily convicted ofher blasphemies, for she uttered those terrible words again and said shewould not take them back. When warned that she was imperiling her life,she said they could take it in welcome, she did not want it, she wouldrather live with the professional devils in perdition than with theseimitators in the village. They accused her of breaking all those ribsby witchcraft, and asked her if she was not a witch? She answeredscornfully:
"No. If I had that power would any of you holy hypocrites be alive fiveminutes? No; I would strike you all dead. Pronounce your sentence andlet me go; I am tired of your society."
So they found her guilty, and she was excommunicated and cut off fromthe joys of heaven and doomed to the fires of hell; then she was clothedin a coarse robe and delivered to the secular arm, and conducted to themarket-place, the bell solemnly tolling the while. We saw her chained tothe stake, and saw the first film of blue smoke rise on the still air.Then her hard face softened, and she looked upon the packed crowd infront of her and said, with gentleness:
"We played together once, in long-agone days when we were innocentlittle creatures. For the sake of that, I forgive you."
We went away then, and did not see the fires consume her, but we heardthe shrieks, although we put our fingers in our ears. When they ceasedwe knew she was in heaven, notwithstanding the excommunication; and wewere glad of her death and not sorry that we had brought it about.
One day, a little while after this, Satan appeared again. We were alwayswatching out for him, for life was never very stagnant when he was by.He came upon us at that place in the woods where we had first met him.Being boys, we wanted to be entertained; we asked him to do a show forus.
"Very well," he said; "would you like to see a history of the progressof the human race?--its development of that product which it callscivilization?"
We said we should.
So, with a thought, he turned the place into the Garden of Eden, and wesaw Abel praying by his altar; then Cain came walking toward him withhis club, and did not seem to see us, and would have stepped on my footif I had not drawn it in. He spoke to his brother in a language whichwe did not understand; then he grew violent and threatening, and we knewwhat was going to happen, and turned away our heads for the moment; butwe heard the crash of the blows and heard the shrieks and the groans;then there was silence, and we saw Abel lying in his blood and gaspingout his life, and Cain standing over him and looking down at him,vengeful and unrepentant.
Then the vision vanished, and was followed by a long series of unknownwars, murders, and massacres. Next we had the Flood, and the Ark tossingaround in the stormy waters, with lofty mountains in the distanceshowing veiled and dim through the rain. Satan said:
"The progress of your race was not satisfactory. It is to have anotherchance now."
The scene changed, and we saw Noah overcome with wine.
Next, we had Sodom and Gomorrah, and "the attempt to discover two orthree respectable persons there," as Satan described it. Next, Lot andhis daughters in the cave.
Next came the Hebraic wars, and we saw the victors massacre thesurvivors and their cattle, and save the young girls alive anddistribute them around.
Next we had Jael; and saw her slip into the tent and drive the nail intothe temple of her sleeping guest; and we were so close that when theblood gushed out it trickled in a little, red stream to our feet, and wecould have stained our hands in it if we had wanted to.
Next we had Egyptian wars, Greek wars, Roman wars, hideous drenchingsof the earth with blood; and we saw the treacheries of the Romans towardthe Carthaginians, and the sickening spectacle of the massacre ofthose brave people. Also we saw Caesar invade Britain--"not that thosebarbarians had done him any harm, but because he wanted their land, anddesired to confer the blessings of civilization upon their widows andorphans," as Satan explained.
Next, Christianity was born. Then ages of Europe passed in review beforeus, and we saw Christianity and Civilization march hand in hand throughthose ages, "leaving famine and death and desolation in their wake, andother signs of the progress of the human race," as Satan observed.
And always we had wars, and more wars, and still other wars--all overEurope, all over the world. "Sometimes in the private interest of royalfamilies," Satan said, "sometimes to crush a weak nation; but never awar started by the aggressor for any clean purpose--there is no such warin the history of the race."
"Now," said Satan, "you have seen your progress down to the present, andyou must confess that it is wonderful--in its way. We must now exhibitthe future."
He showed us slaughters more terrible in their destruction of life, moredevastating in their engines of war, than any we had seen.
"You perceive," he said, "that you have made continual progress. Caindid his murder with a club; the Hebrews did their murders with javelinsand swords; the Greeks and Romans added protective armor an
Then he began to laugh in the most unfeeling way, and make fun of thehuman race, although he knew that what he had been saying shamed us andwounded us. No one but an angel could have acted so; but suffering isnothing to them; they do not know what it is, except by hearsay.
More than once Seppi and I had tried in a humble and diffident way toconvert him, and as he had remained silent we had taken his silence asa sort of encouragement; necessarily, then, this talk of his was adisappointment to us, for it showed that we had made no deep impressionupon him. The thought made us sad, and we knew then how the missionarymust feel when he has been cherishing a glad hope and has seen itblighted. We kept our grief to ourselves, knowing that this was not thetime to continue our work.
Satan laughed his unkind laugh to a finish; then he said: "It is aremarkable progress. In five or six thousand years five or six highcivilizations have risen, flourished, commanded the wonder of the world,then faded out and disappeared; and not one of them except the latestever invented any sweeping and adequate way to kill people. They all didtheir best--to kill being the chiefest ambition of the human raceand the earliest incident in its history--but only the Christiancivilization has scored a triumph to be proud of. Two or three centuriesfrom now it will be recognized that all the competent killers areChristians; then the pagan world will go to school to the Christian--notto acquire his religion, but his guns. The Turk and the Chinaman willbuy those to kill missionaries and converts with."
By this time his theater was at work again, and before our eyes nationafter nation drifted by, during two or three centuries, a mightyprocession, an endless procession, raging, struggling, wallowing throughseas of blood, smothered in battle-smoke through which the flags glintedand the red jets from the cannon darted; and always we heard the thunderof the guns and the cries of the dying.
"And what does it amount to?" said Satan, with his evil chuckle."Nothing at all. You gain nothing; you always come out where you wentin. For a million years the race has gone on monotonously propagatingitself and monotonously reperforming this dull nonsense--to what end?No wisdom can guess! Who gets a profit out of it? Nobody but a parcelof usurping little monarchs and nobilities who despise you; would feeldefiled if you touched them; would shut the door in your face if youproposed to call; whom you slave for, fight for, die for, and are notashamed of it, but proud; whose existence is a perpetual insult to youand you are afraid to resent it; who are mendicants supported by youralms, yet assume toward you the airs of benefactor toward beggar; whoaddress you in the language of master to slave, and are answered in thelanguage of slave to master; who are worshiped by you with your mouth,while in your heart--if you have one--you despise yourselves for it.The first man was a hypocrite and a coward, qualities which have not yetfailed in his line; it is the foundation upon which all civilizationshave been built. Drink to their perpetuation! Drink to theiraugmentation! Drink to--" Then he saw by our faces how much we werehurt, and he cut his sentence short and stopped chuckling, and hismanner changed. He said, gently: "No, we will drink one another'shealth, and let civilization go. The wine which has flown to our handsout of space by desire is earthly, and good enough for that other toast;but throw away the glasses; we will drink this one in wine which has notvisited this world before."
We obeyed, and reached up and received the new cups as they descended.They were shapely and beautiful goblets, but they were not made of anymaterial that we were acquainted with. They seemed to be in motion, theyseemed to be alive; and certainly the colors in them were in motion.They were very brilliant and sparkling, and of every tint, and they werenever still, but flowed to and fro in rich tides which met and broke andflashed out dainty explosions of enchanting color. I think it was mostlike opals washing about in waves and flashing out their splendid fires.But there is nothing to compare the wine with. We drank it, and felt astrange and witching ecstasy as of heaven go stealing through us, andSeppi's eyes filled and he said worshipingly:
"We shall be there some day, and then--"
He glanced furtively at Satan, and I think he hoped Satan would say,"Yes, you will be there some day," but Satan seemed to be thinking aboutsomething else, and said nothing. This made me feel ghastly, for I knewhe had heard; nothing, spoken or unspoken, ever escaped him. Poor Seppilooked distressed, and did not finish his remark. The goblets roseand clove their way into the sky, a triplet of radiant sundogs, anddisappeared. Why didn't they stay? It seemed a bad sign, and depressedme. Should I ever see mine again? Would Seppi ever see his?
It was wonderful, the mastery Satan had over time and distance. For himthey did not exist. He called them human inventions, and said they wereartificialities. We often went to the most distant parts of the globewith him, and stayed weeks and months, and yet were gone only a fractionof a second, as a rule. You could prove it by the clock. One day whenour people were in such awful distress because the witch commission wereafraid to proceed against the astrologer and Father Peter's household,or against any, indeed, but the poor and the friendless, they lostpatience and took to witch-hunting on their own score, and began tochase a born lady who was known to have the habit of curing people bydevilish arts, such as bathing them, washing them, and nourishing theminstead of bleeding them and purging them through the ministrations of abarber-surgeon in the proper way. She came flying down, with the howlingand cursing mob after her, and tried to take refuge in houses, but thedoors were shut in her face. They chased her more than half an hour, wefollowing to see it, and at last she was exhausted and fell, and theycaught her. They dragged her to a tree and threw a rope over the limb,and began to make a noose in it, some holding her, meantime, and shecrying and begging, and her young daughter looking on and weeping, butafraid to say or do anything.
They hanged the lady, and I threw a stone at her, although in my heartI was sorry for her; but all were throwing stones and each was watchinghis neighbor, and if I had not done as the others did it would have beennoticed and spoken of. Satan burst out laughing.
All that were near by turned upon him, astonished and not pleased.It was an ill time to laugh, for his free and scoffing ways and hissupernatural music had brought him under suspicion all over the town andturned many privately against him. The big blacksmith called attentionto him now, raising his voice so that all should hear, and said:
"What are you laughing at? Answer! Moreover, please explain to thecompany why you threw no stone."
"Are you sure I did not throw a stone?"
"Yes. You needn't try to get out of it; I had my eye on you."
"And I--I noticed you!" shouted two others.
"Three witnesses," said Satan: "Mueller, the blacksmith; Klein, thebutcher's man; Pfeiffer, the weaver's journeyman. Three very ordinaryliars. Are there any more?"
"Never mind whether there are others or not, and never mind about whatyou consider us--three's enough to settle your matter for you. You'llprove that you threw a stone, or it shall go hard with you."
"That's so!" shouted the crowd, and surged up as closely as they couldto the center of interest.
"And first you will answer that other question," cried the blacksmith,pleased with himself for being mouthpiece to the public and hero of theoccasion. "What are you laughing at?"
Satan smiled and answered, pleasantly: "To see three cowards stoning adying lady when they were so near death themselves."
You could see the superstitious crowd shrink and catch their breath,under the sudden shock. The blacksmith, with a show of bravado, said:
"Pooh! What do you know about it?"
"I? Everything. By profession I am a fortune-teller, and I read thehands of you three--and some others--when you lifted them to stonet
It made a sensation. The faces of the crowd blanched, and turnedmechanically toward the clock. The butcher and the weaver seemed smittenwith an illness, but the blacksmith braced up and said, with spirit:
"It is not long to wait for prediction number one. If it fails, youngmaster, you will not live a whole minute after, I promise you that."
No one said anything; all watched the clock in a deep stillness whichwas impressive. When four and a half minutes were gone the blacksmithgave a sudden gasp and clapped his hands upon his heart, saying, "Giveme breath! Give me room!" and began to sink down. The crowd surged back,no one offering to support him, and he fell lumbering to the ground andwas dead. The people stared at him, then at Satan, then at one another;and their lips moved, but no words came. Then Satan said:
"Three saw that I threw no stone. Perhaps there are others; let themspeak."
It struck a kind of panic into them, and, although no one answered him,many began to violently accuse one another, saying, "You said he didn'tthrow," and getting for reply, "It is a lie, and I will make you eatit!" And so in a moment they were in a raging and noisy turmoil,and beating and banging one another; and in the midst was the onlyindifferent one--the dead lady hanging from her rope, her troublesforgotten, her spirit at peace.
So we walked away, and I was not at ease, but was saying to myself, "Hetold them he was laughing at them, but it was a lie--he was laughing atme."
That made him laugh again, and he said, "Yes, I was laughing at you,because, in fear of what others might report about you, you stoned thewoman when your heart revolted at the act--but I was laughing at theothers, too."
"Because their case was yours."
"How is that?"
"Well, there were sixty-eight people there, and sixty-two of them had nomore desire to throw a stone than you had."
"Oh, it's true. I know your race. It is made up of sheep. It is governedby minorities, seldom or never by majorities. It suppresses its feelingsand its beliefs and follows the handful that makes the most noise.Sometimes the noisy handful is right, sometimes wrong; but no matter,the crowd follows it. The vast majority of the race, whether savage orcivilized, are secretly kind-hearted and shrink from inflicting pain,but in the presence of the aggressive and pitiless minority they don'tdare to assert themselves. Think of it! One kind-hearted creature spiesupon another, and sees to it that he loyally helps in iniquities whichrevolt both of them. Speaking as an expert, I know that ninety-nine outof a hundred of your race were strongly against the killing of witcheswhen that foolishness was first agitated by a handful of pious lunaticsin the long ago. And I know that even to-day, after ages of transmittedprejudice and silly teaching, only one person in twenty puts any realheart into the harrying of a witch. And yet apparently everybody hateswitches and wants them killed. Some day a handful will rise up on theother side and make the most noise--perhaps even a single daring manwith a big voice and a determined front will do it--and in a week allthe sheep will wheel and follow him, and witch-hunting will come to asudden end.
"Monarchies, aristocracies, and religions are all based upon that largedefect in your race--the individual's distrust of his neighbor, and hisdesire, for safety's or comfort's sake, to stand well in his neighbor'seye. These institutions will always remain, and always flourish, andalways oppress you, affront you, and degrade you, because you willalways be and remain slaves of minorities. There was never a countrywhere the majority of the people were in their secret hearts loyal toany of these institutions."
I did not like to hear our race called sheep, and said I did not thinkthey were.
"Still, it is true, lamb," said Satan. "Look at you in war--what muttonyou are, and how ridiculous!"
"In war? How?"
"There has never been a just one, never an honorable one--on the partof the instigator of the war. I can see a million years ahead, and thisrule will never change in so many as half a dozen instances. Theloud little handful--as usual--will shout for the war. The pulpitwill--warily and cautiously--object--at first; the great, big, dull bulkof the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why thereshould be a war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, "It is unjustand dishonorable, and there is no necessity for it." Then the handfulwill shout louder. A few fair men on the other side will argue andreason against the war with speech and pen, and at first will have ahearing and be applauded; but it will not last long; those others willoutshout them, and presently the anti-war audiences will thin outand lose popularity. Before long you will see this curious thing: thespeakers stoned from the platform, and free speech strangled by hordesof furious men who in their secret hearts are still at one with thosestoned speakers--as earlier--but do not dare to say so. And now thewhole nation--pulpit and all--will take up the war-cry, and shout itselfhoarse, and mob any honest man who ventures to open his mouth; andpresently such mouths will cease to open. Next the statesmen will inventcheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, andevery man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and willdiligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them;and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, andwill thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process ofgrotesque self-deception."
Days and days went by now, and no Satan. It was dull without him. Butthe astrologer, who had returned from his excursion to the moon, wentabout the village, braving public opinion, and getting a stone in themiddle of his back now and then when some witch-hater got a safe chanceto throw it and dodge out of sight. Meantime two influences had beenworking well for Marget. That Satan, who was quite indifferent to her,had stopped going to her house after a visit or two had hurt her pride,and she had set herself the task of banishing him from her heart.Reports of Wilhelm Meidling's dissipation brought to her from time totime by old Ursula had touched her with remorse, jealousy of Satanbeing the cause of it; and so now, these two matters working upon hertogether, she was getting a good profit out of the combination--herinterest in Satan was steadily cooling, her interest in Wilhelm assteadily warming. All that was needed to complete her conversionwas that Wilhelm should brace up and do something that should causefavorable talk and incline the public toward him again.
The opportunity came now. Marget sent and asked him to defend heruncle in the approaching trial, and he was greatly pleased, and stoppeddrinking and began his preparations with diligence. With more diligencethan hope, in fact, for it was not a promising case. He had manyinterviews in his office with Seppi and me, and threshed out ourtestimony pretty thoroughly, thinking to find some valuable grains amongthe chaff, but the harvest was poor, of course.
If Satan would only come! That was my constant thought. He couldinvent some way to win the case; for he had said it would be won, sohe necessarily knew how it could be done. But the days dragged on, andstill he did not come. Of course I did not doubt that it would be won,and that Father Peter would be happy for the rest of his life, sinceSatan had said so; yet I knew I should be much more comfortable if hewould come and tell us how to manage it. It was getting high time forFather Peter to have a saving change toward happiness, for by generalreport he was worn out with his imprisonment and the ignominy that wasburdening him, and was like to die of his miseries unless he got reliefsoon.
At last the trial came on, and the people gathered from all around towitness it; among them many strangers from considerable distances. Yes,everybody was there except the accused. He was too feeble in body forthe strain. But Marget was present, and keeping up her hope and herspirit the best she could. The money was present, too. It was emptiedon the table, and was handled and caressed and examined by such as wereprivileged.
The astrologer was put in the witness-box. He had on his best hat androbe for the occasion.
QUESTION. You claim th
ANSWER. I do.
Q. How did you come by it?
A. I found the bag in the road when I was returning from a journey.
A. More than two years ago.
Q. What did you do with it?
A. I brought it home and hid it in a secret place in my observatory,intending to find the owner if I could.
Q. You endeavored to find him?
A. I made diligent inquiry during several months, but nothing came ofit.
Q. And then?
A. I thought it not worth while to look further, and was minded to usethe money in finishing the wing of the foundling-asylum connected withthe priory and nunnery. So I took it out of its hiding-place and countedit to see if any of it was missing. And then--
Q. Why do you stop? Proceed.
A. I am sorry to have to say this, but just as I had finished and wasrestoring the bag to its place, I looked up and there stood Father Peterbehind me.
Several murmured, "That looks bad," but others answered, "Ah, but he issuch a liar!"
Q. That made you uneasy?
A. No; I thought nothing of it at the time, for Father Peter often cameto me unannounced to ask for a little help in his need.
Marget blushed crimson at hearing her uncle falsely and impudentlycharged with begging, especially from one he had always denounced as afraud, and was going to speak, but remembered herself in time and heldher peace.
A. In the end I was afraid to contribute the money to thefoundling-asylum, but elected to wait yet another year and continuemy inquiries. When I heard of Father Peter's find I was glad, and nosuspicion entered my mind; when I came home a day or two later anddiscovered that my own money was gone I still did not suspect untilthree circumstances connected with Father Peter's good fortune struck meas being singular coincidences.
Q. Pray name them.
A. Father Peter had found his money in a path--I had found mine in aroad. Father Peter's find consisted exclusively of gold ducats--minealso. Father Peter found eleven hundred and seven ducats--I exactly thesame.
This closed his evidence, and certainly it made a strong impression onthe house; one could see that.
Wilhelm Meidling asked him some questions, then called us boys, and wetold our tale. It made the people laugh, and we were ashamed. We werefeeling pretty badly, anyhow, because Wilhelm was hopeless, and showedit. He was doing as well as he could, poor young fellow, but nothing wasin his favor, and such sympathy as there was was now plainly not withhis client. It might be difficult for court and people to believethe astrologer's story, considering his character, but it was almostimpossible to believe Father Peter's. We were already feeling badlyenough, but when the astrologer's lawyer said he believed he would notask us any questions--for our story was a little delicate and it wouldbe cruel for him to put any strain upon it--everybody tittered, andit was almost more than we could bear. Then he made a sarcastic littlespeech, and got so much fun out of our tale, and it seemed so ridiculousand childish and every way impossible and foolish, that it madeeverybody laugh till the tears came; and at last Marget could not keepup her courage any longer, but broke down and cried, and I was so sorryfor her.
Now I noticed something that braced me up. It was Satan standingalongside of Wilhelm! And there was such a contrast!--Satan looked soconfident, had such a spirit in his eyes and face, and Wilhelm looked sodepressed and despondent. We two were comfortable now, and judged thathe would testify and persuade the bench and the people that black waswhite and white black, or any other color he wanted it. We glancedaround to see what the strangers in the house thought of him, for he wasbeautiful, you know--stunning, in fact--but no one was noticing him; sowe knew by that that he was invisible.
The lawyer was saying his last words; and while he was saying them Satanbegan to melt into Wilhelm. He melted into him and disappeared; and thenthere was a change, when his spirit began to look out of Wilhelm's eyes.
That lawyer finished quite seriously, and with dignity. He pointed tothe money, and said:
"The love of it is the root of all evil. There it lies, the ancienttempter, newly red with the shame of its latest victory--the dishonor ofa priest of God and his two poor juvenile helpers in crime. If it couldbut speak, let us hope that it would be constrained to confess that ofall its conquests this was the basest and the most pathetic."
He sat down. Wilhelm rose and said:
"From the testimony of the accuser I gather that he found this moneyin a road more than two years ago. Correct me, sir, if I misunderstoodyou."
The astrologer said his understanding of it was correct.
"And the money so found was never out of his hands thenceforth up to acertain definite date--the last day of last year. Correct me, sir, if Iam wrong."
The astrologer nodded his head. Wilhelm turned to the bench and said:
"If I prove that this money here was not that money, then it is nothis?"
"Certainly not; but this is irregular. If you had such a witness it wasyour duty to give proper notice of it and have him here to--" He brokeoff and began to consult with the other judges. Meantime that otherlawyer got up excited and began to protest against allowing newwitnesses to be brought into the case at this late stage.
The judges decided that his contention was just and must be allowed.
"But this is not a new witness," said Wilhelm. "It has already beenpartly examined. I speak of the coin."
"The coin? What can the coin say?"
"It can say it is not the coin that the astrologer once possessed. Itcan say it was not in existence last December. By its date it can saythis."
And it was so! There was the greatest excitement in the court while thatlawyer and the judges were reaching for coins and examining them andexclaiming. And everybody was full of admiration of Wilhelm's brightnessin happening to think of that neat idea. At last order was called andthe court said:
"All of the coins but four are of the date of the present year. Thecourt tenders its sincere sympathy to the accused, and its deep regretthat he, an innocent man, through an unfortunate mistake, has sufferedthe undeserved humiliation of imprisonment and trial. The case isdismissed."
So the money could speak, after all, though that lawyer thought itcouldn't. The court rose, and almost everybody came forward to shakehands with Marget and congratulate her, and then to shake with Wilhelmand praise him; and Satan had stepped out of Wilhelm and was standingaround looking on full of interest, and people walking through him everywhich way, not knowing he was there. And Wilhelm could not explain whyhe only thought of the date on the coins at the last moment, insteadof earlier; he said it just occurred to him, all of a sudden, like aninspiration, and he brought it right out without any hesitation, for,although he didn't examine the coins, he seemed, somehow, to know it wastrue. That was honest of him, and like him; another would have pretendedhe had thought of it earlier, and was keeping it back for a surprise.
He had dulled down a little now; not much, but still you could noticethat he hadn't that luminous look in his eyes that he had while Satanwas in him. He nearly got it back, though, for a moment when Marget cameand praised him and thanked him and couldn't keep him from seeing howproud she was of him. The astrologer went off dissatisfied and cursing,and Solomon Isaacs gathered up the money and carried it away. It wasFather Peter's for good and all, now.
Satan was gone. I judged that he had spirited himself away to the jailto tell the prisoner the news; and in this I was right. Marget andthe rest of us hurried thither at our best speed, in a great state ofrejoicing.
Well, what Satan had done was this: he had appeared before thatpoor prisoner, exclaiming, "The trial is over, and you stand foreverdisgraced as a thief--by verdict of the court!"
The shock unseated the old man's reason. When we arrived, ten minuteslater, he was parading pompously up and down and delivering commands tothis and that and the other constable or jailer, and calling them Grandchamber
Marget flung herself on his breast and cried, and indeed everybodywas moved almost to heartbreak. He recognized Marget, but could notunderstand why she should cry. He patted her on the shoulder and said:
"Don't do it, dear; remember, there are witnesses, and it is notbecoming in the Crown Princess. Tell me your trouble--it shall bemended; there is nothing the Emperor cannot do." Then he looked aroundand saw old Ursula with her apron to her eyes. He was puzzled at that,and said, "And what is the matter with you?"
Through her sobs she got out words explaining that she was distressed tosee him--"so." He reflected over that a moment, then muttered, as if tohimself: "A singular old thing, the Dowager Duchess--means well, but isalways snuffling and never able to tell what it is about. It is becauseshe doesn't know." His eyes fell on Wilhelm. "Prince of India," he said,"I divine that it is you that the Crown Princess is concerned about.Her tears shall be dried; I will no longer stand between you; she shallshare your throne; and between you you shall inherit mine. There, littlelady, have I done well? You can smile now--isn't it so?"
He petted Marget and kissed her, and was so contented with himself andwith everybody that he could not do enough for us all, but began to giveaway kingdoms and such things right and left, and the least that any ofus got was a principality. And so at last, being persuaded to go home,he marched in imposing state; and when the crowds along the way saw howit gratified him to be hurrahed at, they humored him to the top of hisdesire, and he responded with condescending bows and gracious smiles,and often stretched out a hand and said, "Bless you, my people!"
As pitiful a sight as ever I saw. And Marget, and old Ursula crying allthe way.
On my road home I came upon Satan, and reproached him with deceivingme with that lie. He was not embarrassed, but said, quite simply andcomposedly:
"Ah, you mistake; it was the truth. I said he would be happy the rest ofhis days, and he will, for he will always think he is the Emperor, andhis pride in it and his joy in it will endure to the end. He is now, andwill remain, the one utterly happy person in this empire."
"But the method of it, Satan, the method! Couldn't you have done itwithout depriving him of his reason?"
It was difficult to irritate Satan, but that accomplished it.
"What an ass you are!" he said. "Are you so unobservant as not to havefound out that sanity and happiness are an impossible combination?No sane man can be happy, for to him life is real, and he sees what afearful thing it is. Only the mad can be happy, and not many of those.The few that imagine themselves kings or gods are happy, the rest are nohappier than the sane. Of course, no man is entirely in his right mindat any time, but I have been referring to the extreme cases. I havetaken from this man that trumpery thing which the race regards as aMind; I have replaced his tin life with a silver-gilt fiction; yousee the result--and you criticize! I said I would make him permanentlyhappy, and I have done it. I have made him happy by the only meanspossible to his race--and you are not satisfied!" He heaved adiscouraged sigh, and said, "It seems to me that this race is hard toplease."
There it was, you see. He didn't seem to know any way to do a persona favor except by killing him or making a lunatic out of him. Iapologized, as well as I could; but privately I did not think much ofhis processes--at that time.
Satan was accustomed to say that our race lived a life of continuous anduninterrupted self-deception. It duped itself from cradle to grave withshams and delusions which it mistook for realities, and this made itsentire life a sham. Of the score of fine qualities which it imagined ithad and was vain of, it really possessed hardly one. It regardeditself as gold, and was only brass. One day when he was in this veinhe mentioned a detail--the sense of humor. I cheered up then, and tookissue. I said we possessed it.
"There spoke the race!" he said; "always ready to claim what it hasn'tgot, and mistake its ounce of brass filings for a ton of gold-dust. Youhave a mongrel perception of humor, nothing more; a multitude of youpossess that. This multitude see the comic side of a thousand low-gradeand trivial things--broad incongruities, mainly; grotesqueries,absurdities, evokers of the horse-laugh. The ten thousand high-gradecomicalities which exist in the world are sealed from their dullvision. Will a day come when the race will detect the funniness of thesejuvenilities and laugh at them--and by laughing at them destroy them?For your race, in its poverty, has unquestionably one reallyeffective weapon--laughter. Power, money, persuasion, supplication,persecution--these can lift at a colossal humbug--push it alittle--weaken it a little, century by century; but only laughter canblow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughternothing can stand. You are always fussing and fighting with your otherweapons. Do you ever use that one? No; you leave it lying rusting. As arace, do you ever use it at all? No; you lack sense and the courage."
We were traveling at the time and stopped at a little city in India andlooked on while a juggler did his tricks before a group of natives. Theywere wonderful, but I knew Satan could beat that game, and I begged himto show off a little, and he said he would. He changed himself into anative in turban and breech-cloth, and very considerately conferred onme a temporary knowledge of the language.
The juggler exhibited a seed, covered it with earth in a smallflower-pot, then put a rag over the pot; after a minute the rag began torise; in ten minutes it had risen a foot; then the rag was removed and alittle tree was exposed, with leaves upon it and ripe fruit. We ate thefruit, and it was good. But Satan said:
"Why do you cover the pot? Can't you grow the tree in the sunlight?"
"No," said the juggler; "no one can do that."
"You are only an apprentice; you don't know your trade. Give me theseed. I will show you." He took the seed and said, "What shall I raisefrom it?"
"It is a cherry seed; of course you will raise a cherry."
"Oh no; that is a trifle; any novice can do that. Shall I raise anorange-tree from it?"
"Oh yes!" and the juggler laughed.
"And shall I make it bear other fruits as well as oranges?"
"If God wills!" and they all laughed.
Satan put the seed in the ground, put a handful of dust on it, and said,"Rise!"
A tiny stem shot up and began to grow, and grew so fast that in fiveminutes it was a great tree, and we were sitting in the shade of it.There was a murmur of wonder, then all looked up and saw a strange andpretty sight, for the branches were heavy with fruits of many kinds andcolors--oranges, grapes, bananas, peaches, cherries, apricots, and soon. Baskets were brought, and the unlading of the tree began; andthe people crowded around Satan and kissed his hand, and praised him,calling him the prince of jugglers. The news went about the town, andeverybody came running to see the wonder--and they remembered to bringbaskets, too. But the tree was equal to the occasion; it put out newfruits as fast as any were removed; baskets were filled by the score andby the hundred, but always the supply remained undiminished. At last aforeigner in white linen and sun-helmet arrived, and exclaimed, angrily:
"Away from here! Clear out, you dogs; the tree is on my lands and is myproperty."
The natives put down their baskets and made humble obeisance. Satan madehumble obeisance, too, with his fingers to his forehead, in the nativeway, and said:
"Please let them have their pleasure for an hour, sir--only that, andno longer. Afterward you may forbid them; and you will still have morefruit than you and the state together can consume in a year."
This made the foreigner very angry, and he cried out, "Who are you, youvagabond, to tell your betters what they may do and what they mayn't!"and he struck Satan with his cane and followed this error with a kick.
The fruits rotted on the branches, and the leaves withered and fell. Theforeigner gazed at the bare limbs with the look of one who is surprised,and not gratified. Satan said:
"Take good care of the tre
The foreigner was proud and wouldn't beg, but I thought he looked as ifhe would like to. While he stood gazing at Satan we vanished away andlanded in Ceylon.
I was sorry for that man; sorry Satan hadn't been his customary selfand killed him or made him a lunatic. It would have been a mercy. Satanoverheard the thought, and said:
"I would have done it but for his wife, who has not offended me. She iscoming to him presently from their native land, Portugal. She is well,but has not long to live, and has been yearning to see him and persuadehim to go back with her next year. She will die without knowing he can'tleave that place."
"He won't tell her?"
"He? He will not trust that secret with any one; he will reflect thatit could be revealed in sleep, in the hearing of some Portuguese guest'sservant some time or other."
"Did none of those natives understand what you said to him?"
"None of them understood, but he will always be afraid that some of themdid. That fear will be torture to him, for he has been a harsh masterto them. In his dreams he will imagine them chopping his tree down.That will make his days uncomfortable--I have already arranged for hisnights."
It grieved me, though not sharply, to see him take such a malicioussatisfaction in his plans for this foreigner.
"Does he believe what you told him, Satan?"
"He thought he didn't, but our vanishing helped. The tree, where therehad been no tree before--that helped. The insane and uncanny variety offruits--the sudden withering--all these things are helps. Let him thinkas he may, reason as he may, one thing is certain, he will water thetree. But between this and night he will begin his changed career with avery natural precaution--for him."
"What is that?"
"He will fetch a priest to cast out the tree's devil. You are such ahumorous race--and don't suspect it."
"Will he tell the priest?"
"No. He will say a juggler from Bombay created it, and that he wants thejuggler's devil driven out of it, so that it will thrive and be fruitfulagain. The priest's incantations will fail; then the Portuguese willgive up that scheme and get his watering-pot ready."
"But the priest will burn the tree. I know it; he will not allow it toremain."
"Yes, and anywhere in Europe he would burn the man, too. But in Indiathe people are civilized, and these things will not happen. The man willdrive the priest away and take care of the tree."
I reflected a little, then said, "Satan, you have given him a hard life,I think."
"Comparatively. It must not be mistaken for a holiday."
We flitted from place to place around the world as we had done before,Satan showing me a hundred wonders, most of them reflecting in someway the weakness and triviality of our race. He did this now every fewdays--not out of malice--I am sure of that--it only seemed to amuse andinterest him, just as a naturalist might be amused and interested by acollection of ants.
For as much as a year Satan continued these visits, but at last he cameless often, and then for a long time he did not come at all. This alwaysmade me lonely and melancholy. I felt that he was losing interest in ourtiny world and might at any time abandon his visits entirely. When oneday he finally came to me I was overjoyed, but only for a little while.He had come to say good-by, he told me, and for the last time. He hadinvestigations and undertakings in other corners of the universe, hesaid, that would keep him busy for a longer period than I could wait forhis return.
"And you are going away, and will not come back any more?"
"Yes," he said. "We have comraded long together, and it has beenpleasant--pleasant for both; but I must go now, and we shall not seeeach other any more."
"In this life, Satan, but in another? We shall meet in another, surely?"
Then, all tranquilly and soberly, he made the strange answer, "There isno other."
A subtle influence blew upon my spirit from his, bringing with it avague, dim, but blessed and hopeful feeling that the incredible wordsmight be true--even must be true.
"Have you never suspected this, Theodor?"
"No. How could I? But if it can only be true--"
"It is true."
A gust of thankfulness rose in my breast, but a doubt checked it beforeit could issue in words, and I said, "But--but--we have seen that futurelife--seen it in its actuality, and so--"
"It was a vision--it had no existence."
I could hardly breathe for the great hope that was struggling in me. "Avision?--a vi--"
"Life itself is only a vision, a dream."
It was electrical. By God! I had had that very thought a thousand timesin my musings!
"Nothing exists; all is a dream. God--man--the world--the sun, the moon,the wilderness of stars--a dream, all a dream; they have no existence.Nothing exists save empty space--and you!"
"And you are not you--you have no body, no blood, no bones, you are buta thought. I myself have no existence; I am but a dream--your dream,creature of your imagination. In a moment you will have realized this,then you will banish me from your visions and I shall dissolve into thenothingness out of which you made me....
"I am perishing already--I am failing--I am passing away. In a littlewhile you will be alone in shoreless space, to wander its limitlesssolitudes without friend or comrade forever--for you will remain athought, the only existent thought, and by your nature inextinguishable,indestructible. But I, your poor servant, have revealed you to yourselfand set you free. Dream other dreams, and better!
"Strange! that you should not have suspected years ago--centuries,ages, eons, ago!--for you have existed, companionless, through all theeternities. Strange, indeed, that you should not have suspected thatyour universe and its contents were only dreams, visions, fiction!Strange, because they are so frankly and hysterically insane--likeall dreams: a God who could make good children as easily as bad, yetpreferred to make bad ones; who could have made every one of them happy,yet never made a single happy one; who made them prize their bitterlife, yet stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal happinessunearned, yet required his other children to earn it; who gave hisangels painless lives, yet cursed his other children with bitingmiseries and maladies of mind and body; who mouths justice andinvented hell--mouths mercy and invented hell--mouths Golden Rules, andforgiveness multiplied by seventy times seven, and invented hell; whomouths morals to other people and has none himself; who frowns uponcrimes, yet commits them all; who created man without invitation, thentries to shuffle the responsibility for man's acts upon man, instead ofhonorably placing it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, withaltogether divine obtuseness, invites this poor, abused slave to worshiphim!...
"You perceive, now, that these things are all impossible except in adream. You perceive that they are pure and puerile insanities, the sillycreations of an imagination that is not conscious of its freaks--in aword, that they are a dream, and you the maker of it. The dream-marksare all present; you should have recognized them earlier.
"It is true, that which I have revealed to you; there is no God, nouniverse, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is alla dream--a grotesque and foolish dream. Nothing exists but you. Andyou are but a thought--a vagrant thought, a useless thought, a homelessthought, wandering forlorn among the empty eternities!"
He vanished, and left me appalled; for I knew, and realized, that all hehad said was true.
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